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Example 1: Say I'm given a contract to paint a house, and a few days before I am assigned to paint it, the house is hit by lightning and burns down, making my work impossible to complete. Do I still get paid?

Example 2: Say I'm given a single contract to paint two houses. I paint the first house, then lightning strikes the second and it burns down, so I can't paint the second house. Do I still get paid the value of the entire contract?

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While the duty to perform a contract is usually a "strict liability" obligation, the doctrine of impossibility or impracticability of performance invalidates contracts that are impracticable to perform for unforeseeable reasons.

Example 1: Say I'm given a contract to paint a house, and a few days before I am assigned to paint it, the house is hit by lightning and burns down, making my work impossible to complete. Do I still get paid?

The contract is invalidated and you don't get paid for anything more than the fair market value of the work you actually did under a quantum meruit (a.k.a. unjust enrichment a.k.a. restitution) theory.

Example 2: Say I'm given a single contract to paint two houses. I paint the first house, then lightning strikes the second and it burns down, so I can't paint the second house. Do I still get paid the value of the entire contract?

No. The contract would likely be found to be "severable" and the portion related to the second house would be invalidated on the grounds of impossibility. You would only be paid for the work you actually do.

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  • I added some more examples, where the client is somehow responsible for the work becoming impossible. Does this change things?
    – bennlich
    Feb 21 at 13:14
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    @bennlich Those are other questions.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 21 at 21:16
  • Ah, okay. I moved those to a new question: law.stackexchange.com/questions/100921/…
    – bennlich
    Feb 25 at 11:38

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