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What is unjust enrichment under the law? It's understandable if associated with liability for wrongdoing. Apparently, this is not a necessary condition. How does it operate independently of liability for wrongdoing?

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Unjust enrichment is an equitable theory of recovery that provides a fallback, for lack of better words, avenue of recovery for situations where no contract actually exists between two parties, but one party has received a benefit. The classic example is: Jane hires Dan to mow her lawn and tells him where her house is. Dan mistakenly mows Bob's lawn next door. Dan has no contract to mow Bob's lawn, but Bob has been unjustly enriched based on Dan having mowed his lawn. In this case Dan would have an equitable claim of unjust enrichment against Bob for the value of his yard services mistakenly provided Bob.

In sum, any time someone receives the benefit from someone else's efforts, where the one providing the benefit mistakenly provides those services in good-faith, the one receiving the benefit has been unjustly enriched.

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    I believe your example gets the point across. But would Dan's claim actually have any merit under the law? I can see maybe if Bob was aware of the fact that Dan had made a mistake and said nothing because he wanted to get gain from the situation. What do you say? – Trevor May 29 '15 at 18:06
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    You have to understand the difference between a legal claim and an equitable claim. A legal claim depends on a recognized cause of action such a breach of contract. There is no contract between Dan and Bob, so normally no recovery. However, the courts have created equitable doctrines to fill in the gaps recognizing there are areas not covered by the law where justice and fairness require some type of relief. (and there are some limitations on what can be recovered). However, to prevent Dan from mowing every yard in town, equity requires it be a mistake made in good faith . – David C. Rankin May 29 '15 at 18:50
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    I find issue with this example; it suggests that someone who doesn't like their lawn mowed, or who likes to mown it themselves, or even through a preferred provider (either for special discount or arrangement, or through an interest in hiring a family member etc), might be required to remit payment for someone doing a trespassing and performing an unwelcome service; and that's just wrong, surely that has to not be legal, and there has to be some kind of a pre-condition in order for this to qualify as "unjust enrichment". – cnst Jun 3 '15 at 6:44
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    If Dan confers a benefit to Bob, then Dan has an equitable claim against Bob even if Bob hates people touching his lawn. While unjust enrichment is an equitable claim, that doesn't mean Bob would have no defenses to Dan's claim. While not sounding in contract, Bob could claim as a defense that no benefit was actually received for all of the extenuating reasons you have set forth. There are two sides to every lawsuit just like every coin. While Dan may have unjust enrichment on his side, that doesn't mean Bob has to lie down and play dead. He can bring his defenses to the party as well... – David C. Rankin Jun 13 '15 at 7:24
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    Bob's history of not mowing his lawn, or even maintaining it in that state of a benefit, is his defense against the equitable claim. If Bob had his lawn mowed regularly, then he has established his value in the service, regardless of whom provided it. If Bob has a contract with Fred that mandates payment regardless of cancellation, then such obligation factors into restitution of Dan's claim. Dan might move forward with the equitable claim, only to owe Bob money to settle damages from the circumstances...... unless Bob's contract includes an exception for Force Majeure. – New Alexandria Jul 20 '15 at 3:49

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