Quantum Meruit- What Is It and Why Plead It?

conditions-624911_1280  If the term “quantum meruit” is one you have encountered, most likely you are involved with litigation or are about to be. Quantum meruit is a legal term which directly translates from Latin into “as much as he has deserved.” But what does that really mean for the average business owner?

Quantum meruit is a cause of action which is used when there is no effective contract and a plaintiff asks the court to essentially act as though there is a contract because the parties agreed to the performance by one party with the understanding that the performing party would be paid. The basic elements of quantum meruit are: 1) the recipient of the benefit (most likely the defendant) agreed to the services, 2) the recipient was aware the provider expected to be paid for those services; and 3) the recipient was unjustly enriched by receiving said services. Hermanowski v. Naranja Lakes Condominium No. Five, Inc., 421 So. 2d 558 (Fla. 3d DCA 1982), rev. denied, 430 So. 2d 451 (Fla. 1983).

As an illustration, let’s look at quantum meruit in the context of a construction dispute. In this example, assume the general contractor is a busy business owner and he fails to provide a written contract to the homeowner for a bathroom renovation, but does give an estimate of $10,000. If the contractor completes the work and the homeowner refuses to pay, the contractor may have a difficult time arguing that there as a contract between them, whether written or oral (this scenario also assumes the contractor has failed to avail him/herself of the remedies available under Florida’s construction lien statutes). However, under the theory of quantum meruit, the contractor has a good argument for each of the elements: 1) the homeowner agreed to the bathroom renovation; 2) the homeowner was aware the contractor was to be paid for the contractor’s services and materials; and 3) the homeowner would be unjustly enriched if allowed to benefit from the new bathroom without paying for it.

If you have ever been in the unenviable position of having to litigate, you may be wondering why the complaint to the lawsuit alleges both a breach of contract and quantum meruit? If quantum meruit is used by courts when there is no contract, why would a plaintiff allege quantum meruit when there is a contract? The answer is a matter of strategy. I have frequently seen litigators allege quantum meruit where there is a contract between the parties in the event the contract is found unenforceable by a judge. Alleging quantum meruit ensures the plaintiff may still be able to fight for damages even if the contract is dead. However, it is important to plead quantum meruit in the alternative of a valid contract, because you cannot have both.

As always, it is important to have a qualified attorney answer your legal questions.

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