Quantum Meruit

AuthorJeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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[Latin, As much as is deserved.] In the law of contracts, a doctrine by which the law infers a promise to pay a reasonable amount for labor and materials furnished, even in the absence of a specific legally enforceable agreement between the parties.

A party who performs a valuable service for another party usually enters into a written contract or agreement before performing the service, particularly when the party is in the business of performing that service. For instance, most professional roofers hired to repair a roof insist on having a formal agreement with the owner of the house before beginning the repairs. In the absence of an agreement or formal contract, the roofer may be unable to recover losses in court if the transaction goes awry. Quantum meruit is a judicial doctrine that allows a party to recover losses in the absence of an agreement or binding contract.

By allowing the recovery of the value of labor and materials, quantum meruit prevents the UNJUST ENRICHMENT of the other party. A person would be unjustly enriched if she received a benefit and did not pay for it when fairness required that payment be made. Quantum meruit can be used to address situations where no contract exists or where a contract exists but for some reason is unenforceable. In such cases courts imply a contract to avoid an unjust result. Such contracts are called quasi contracts.

Quantum meruit also describes a method used to determine the exact amount owed to a person. A court may measure this amount either

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by determining how much the defendant has benefited from the transaction or by determining how much the plaintiff has expended in materials and services.

The doctrine of quantum meruit was developed in the seventeenth century by the royal Court of Chancery in England. This court worked apart from the common-law courts to grant relief that was due under general principles of fairness but could not be obtained under the strict legal precedents of the common-law courts. The system of basing decisions on basic principles of fairness became known as EQUITY. The Chancery Court developed quantum meruit along with other equitable doctrines that allowed a person to recover or collect for other valuable acts performed without a contract, such as the delivery of goods or money. Some of the first cases of quantum meruit involved recovery by persons in so-called trades of common calling, such as innkeepers, tailors...

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