For example, when one goes to dentist, he might ask you "Do you want me to fix cavity for you?" without explicitly disclosing the price for the service at that time. Then, if you say "Yes", they do the service and disclose price only after service is already rendered.

What puts obligation to the consumer to pay for this service, if price wasn't explicitly disclosed before the service was actually rendered (e.g. when I went to the dentist for the first time, did he ask me to sign a written contract that mentions that it is my responsibility to check how much he would charge to fix cavity)?

I have encountered different dentists in my life and some of them explicitly mention the price before doing the service while others don't.

2 Answers 2


The parties don't need to explicitly agree on the price beforehand, unless a law explicitly requires it for a specific kind of transaction. Contracts do not need to have all terms explicitly spelled out for those terms to be binding; it is expected that dental care has a cost, and if you don't explicitly specify the cost then it's assumed you're willing to pay a reasonable fee. They can't charge you six million dollars for a bandage, but there's a very wide range of fees considered "reasonable" for a doctor to charge. If you care more about the price, it's your responsibility to work these things out yourself before saying "yes." The dentist does not need to make you sign a written contract saying it's your job to check, because when you agreed to the care without asking about the price you already agreed to pay whatever would be charged (subject to the fact that courts will not enforce an unconscionable contract).

California law requires hospitals to provide someone without insurance a written estimate of healthcare costs upon request, as well as requiring any hospital with a master list of charges for services to make it available to the public and to give anyone (on request) a list of average charges for 25 common outpatient services. It does not require medical charges to be set out in advance without a request, just like other fields of commerce aren't generally required to do that.


Contracts require "meeting of minds"

I disagree with another answer to this question. Specifically, the part that says:

Contracts do not need to have all terms explicitly spelled out for those terms to be binding;

That is incorrect. In fact, contracts have to meet several requirements in order to be valid, binding and enforcable. Most of those requirements are irrelevant to this question... However, one of those requirements is that the parties must have a meeting of the minds as to what they are agreeing. If there is no meeting of the minds on all the terms, then there is no contract. This is a common way contract disputes arise. Lack of clarity of the terms of the contract. And this is how contract disputes land in the legal system.

Contracts are statutory; without one, payment becomes a matter of equity

However, no contract does not mean you don't have to pay. You have to pay as a matter of equity which is a common law principle. The contract would be a statutory basis for owing payment. Without a contract, equity and common law kicks in. Specifically, the principle of unjust enrichment becomes the issue. So a court would have to determine the fair value of the services rendered and you would then owe the fair value.

You could just avoid the potential for a later price dispute by agreeing to the price before hand. But, as the question points out, this is not always done in practice.

Settlement terms revert to the court

That said, if you don't agree on price before hand the other party doesn't just get to charge whatever they want. If they charge more than you are willing to pay, then force them to sue you and a judge will determine what you owe. Both sides will have to present evidence supporting their determination of the value of the services rendered.

But, as mentioned, this can be avoided by either agreeing to the price in advance or an after-the-fact negotiation to arrive at a fair price for settlement.

  • Contract law is (mostly) common law. Equity law is equity law, not common law. Both are part of the law in common law jurisdictions but there are no longer separate courts for each. The distinction is therefore largely historical/academic.
    – Dale M
    Dec 10, 2015 at 22:13
  • Also, "meeting of the minds" does not mean agreement on all terms. If I agree to provide a service for which you agree to pay then both the scope of the service and the amount of payment can be left unspecified.
    – Dale M
    Dec 10, 2015 at 22:20
  • @DaleM: On your first point. Agreed. I won't quibble. Except to point out the basis for enforcement of contracts is statutory. In other words, the contract itself becomes the de facto statute. But as you said, that's academic. Dec 10, 2015 at 22:33
  • @DaleM: On your second point. Also agreed. But with qualification. For example, in your hypothetical, there is a meeting of the minds because we both agreed on services in exchange for payment. However, if we both had wildly different ideas on the value of those services then there was no meeting of the minds and, therefore, no contract. So the basis of payment becomes "what's fair." In other words, equity. Correct? Dec 10, 2015 at 22:33
  • Could be equity but it could fall within the gamut of contract law: prior dealing, advertised price etc.
    – Dale M
    Dec 10, 2015 at 22:50

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