When people make a deal and one of those people do not honour the agreement one way to resolve the dispute will be to go to court. One of the first things judges ask themselves is whether the agreement is a legal contract. Sometimes it is and sometimes it’s not. So what is an aggrieved person to do when he has been cheated but the deal is not a formal contract? He relies on the doctrine of quantum meruit. Great you say – but what is quantum meruit?
What Is Quantum Meruit?
Quantum Meruit is a Latin terms which means “as much as he deserves”.
One example of when a plaintiff will rely on the doctrine of quantum meruit is when people agree on all the terms of the deal except price. So the contract may be valid, but for the fact that the deal does not spell out the fee.
Here the court will rely on the principles of equity and say that the service provider has to be paid a reasonable about of compensation because no one expects anything for free. The law presumes that people make bargains – not gifts.
Another example of when Quantum Meruit comes into play is when there is no legal agreement, but one of the parties through wrongful conduct got a windfall. This “unjust enrichment” element is key. The party against whom the remedy is being sought must have done something wrong and received a benefit. The victim of the wrongful conduct must have been deprived of some benefit and there is no legal rationalization for the rogue benefiting or the victim suffering the loss.
Quantum Meruit Claims and Estate Litigation
Quantum Meruit claims for unjust enrichments often come up in estate litigation cases. The will-maker, while they are alive make all sorts of promises to people. In exchange for those promises people provide services for the will-makers based on the promises made. When the actual Will falls short of those promises the disappointed beneficiary sues and alleges that based on the promises the will-maker provided services were given. The plaintiff seek enforcement of the promise or at the very least compensation.
The Next Steps
This short general overview is really just a basic introduction to the topic of quantum meruit. It is far from complete. In some legal texts there are entire chapters devoted to each issue. I mention this because this short article is not meant to be legal advice. Reading this article is only meant to be the first step for those who are considering launching a claim based on quantum meruit.
The next step is to meet with a qualified lawyer who will thoroughly investigate the facts and explain your legal options.
Based on the nature of our practice and experience our office deals with many potential clients who feel wronged and want to challenge a will. For some we discourage proceeding because their case may be too weak or because the risk is not worth the reward. For others we point out facts and legal issues that they had not considered that bolster their case and merit proceeding to court.
The bottom line – nothing replaces seeking out the counsel of a qualified lawyer who specializes in this niche area of the law and has the expertise to guide you in your decision making process. It’s not just about the law. It’s also about knowing the process well enough to determine whether the prospects of success warrant the economic and emotional investment.
Call us for more information.