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What is unjust enrichment? Contract law basics

by | Apr 9, 2021 | Construction Law

As a contractor, when you provide services to a business or individual, you expect something of value in return. Typically, the agreement between you and the other person is confirmed in a written document called a contract. Sometimes, however, the agreement is not reduced to writing and the parties are left with their own interpretation of the agreement. Although a written agreement may not exist, this does not mean you are out of luck when it comes to being compensated for your services. You may be able to assert a claim for breach of oral contract. You also may be able to file a construction lien on the piece of property where the work was performed. Lastly, you may be able to assert a claim for Unjust Enrichment. This is a common claim that may be asserted as a sole claim or in addition to other claims.

Unjust enrichment involves one party being enriched at the expense of another

What is unjust enrichment?

Unjust enrichment involves one party receiving a benefit at the other party’s expense where the party receiving the benefit refused to compensate the party providing the benefit. In this situation, the party that received the benefit would be unjustly enriched and should compensate the other party for the benefits they’ve received. This is referred to as an equitable remedy. As noted above, a claim for unjust enrichment does not require a contract.


What does not constitute unjust enrichment?

It is not considered unjust enrichment under two specific circumstances.

  1. Gift principle
  2. Choice principle

Firstly, the gift principle states that if someone gives someone else something considered a gift, there is no basis for unjust enrichment. You cannot sue someone when you do not receive anything in return when giving a gift. If something is given as a gift, there is no reciprocation necessary.

Secondly, the choice principle states that you must give the recipient of your product or service a chance to reject the product or service. If the person did not request said product or service and you did not give them a chance to reject the product or service, there is no basis for an unjust enrichment claim.

Filing a claim

To file a claim, you must be able to prove that:

  1. A benefit was conferred onto another person or entity;
  2. The benefit was conferred at your expense; and
  3. The receiving party was unjustly enriched by the benefit and justice requires that compensation for the benefit be remitted.

Although unjust enrichment can help contractors recover compensation for services rendered to others, contractors should be diligent about obtaining written contracts outlining the material terms of the agreement. Where a written contract exists, contractors typically have a better chance to recover payment.

McDonald & Kloth, LLC can help you

McDonald & Kloth, LLC can help you with your unjust enrichment claim. Speak to an experienced attorney about the best option for you to pursue. We keep our clients’ interest our main focus. Call 262-252-9122 or use our contact form to schedule a consultation to see how we can help you.