Contracts usually outline the terms of a deal and provide a legal remedy in the event there is a dispute. However, under Illinois law, a party may still be entitled to commence a legal action in the absence of a contract to recover their damages should there be a conflict. Quantum meruit and unjust enrichment can help to protect a plaintiff in cases where a defendant would receive an unfair benefit at their expense. The guiding principle of these legal remedies is fairness — and safeguarding a plaintiff’s interests so they will not be taken advantage of for the defendant’s own economic gain.
Quantum meruit is a Latin phrase that can be translated to mean “as much as he deserved.” It is a legal remedy used in cases where someone has performed services but there is no contract in place — or the contractual agreement is defective in some way and unenforceable. While this would make suing for a breach of contract impossible, quantum meruit can help to ensure an aggrieved party gets at least some of their damages back in situations where they would normally receive nothing. Importantly, quantum meruit allows the party to recover the reasonable value of their work and material.
Quantum meruit is often used in cases where parties are eager to enter into a deal and forget to include key terms in a contract or fail to make a formal contract at all. A successful claim made under quantum meruit must demonstrate the following:
The party asserting a claim under quantum meruit has the burden to establish their damages. The proof presented must be specific enough to demonstrate the value of the materials and services rendered.
Unjust enrichment is similar to quantum meruit but provides alternative relief. A claim made under unjust enrichment must show that the defendant was enriched while the plaintiff was impoverished as a result. A plaintiff must also show that the defendant’s retention of the benefit violated the fundamental principles of justice, equity, and good conscience. This claim can be asserted when there is no enforceable contract that governs the dispute. It can also be argued in cases where there was an enforceable contract, but a defendant’s tortious behavior gave rise to the claim.
In a claim for unjust enrichment, a plaintiff usually seeks to recover a benefit conferred directly to the defendant. But they may also seek to recover a benefit that was transferred by a third party to the defendant that belongs to them. In cases involving third parties, a plaintiff must allege that the third party should have given the benefit to the plaintiff but instead, they mistakenly gave it to the defendant — or the defendant obtained the benefit through wrongful conduct.
Notably, unjust enrichment claims are distinguished from breach of contract claims in that it does not require proving an actionable wrong. A plaintiff only must show that the defendant received a benefit that they were not entitled, and for which they should be compensated. While these claims may sometimes involve illegal conduct, wrongful behavior, or fault, such wrongdoing is not required to assert unjust enrichment.
Both quantum meruit and unjust enrichment focus on the improper retention of a benefit. The same facts and circumstances might even be used to support both claims. However, there is one primary difference that should be noted — unjust enrichment and quantum meruit are differentiated by the way damages are measured.
Significantly, unjust enrichment focuses on the benefit received and retained as a result of the services provided by the plaintiff. Rather than damages derived solely from the plaintiff’s monetary expenditures. For instance, if the plaintiff provided labor and materials valued at $200, and the improvements made allowed a defendant to unjustly receive a benefit of $2,000, the plaintiff could receive a greater award for their damages than the $200 that had been expended.
If you’re experiencing a business dispute in the absence of a valid contract, or another party would be unjustly enriched by your services, it’s critical to protect your legal and financial interests. An experienced business law attorney can advise you regarding your remedies and guide you through the litigation process. Located in Rolling Meadows, Litico Law Group provides knowledgeable representation to business owners and entrepreneurs throughout Illinois. We welcome you to contact us by filling out our online form or call 847-307-5942 to schedule a consultation to learn how we can assist you.