Unjust Enrichment Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Unjust Enrichment, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Unjust Enrichment?

(n) Unjust enrichment is the acquiring or possession of wealth not due to the holder. The right or ownership lies with another person. Such wealth may have been acquired by a chance like founder of lost goods or handed over by mistaken identity etc. As per the law possessor of such good holds the goods on behalf of the real owner

History and Meaning of Unjust Enrichment

Unjust enrichment is a legal concept that dates back to Roman law. It refers to a situation where one person has benefited at the expense of another person, without any legal justification for the enrichment. The law recognizes that in such cases, the person who has been enriched unjustly should not be allowed to retain the benefits. Instead, the law requires that the unjustly enriched person should make restitution to the person who has been deprived of what is rightfully theirs.

In modern legal systems, unjust enrichment is a principle that applies across a wide range of legal contexts. It is often used to enforce restitution in cases where there has been a mistake, a breach of contract, or a failure of consideration. In essence, it is a means of ensuring that people are not allowed to profit from their wrongful acts or omission.

Examples of Unjust Enrichment

  1. A company mistakenly wires $100,000 to the wrong bank account. The recipient of the funds, who has no legal right to them, uses the money to pay off debts and invest in stocks. The company can sue the recipient for unjust enrichment and seek restitution of the $100,000.

  2. A contractor completes a job for a client, but the client refuses to pay for the work. The contractor can file a claim for unjust enrichment, arguing that the client has received a benefit at the contractor's expense.

  3. A person finds a diamond ring on the street and decides to keep it. Later, it turns out that the ring belonged to someone who had lost it. The rightful owner can sue the finder for unjust enrichment, seeking restitution of the value of the ring.

Legal Terms Similar to Unjust Enrichment

  1. Restitution: An order to return property or pay compensation to restore a person to the position they were in before an unjust enrichment occurred.

  2. Constructive trust: A legal concept that arises when one person has been unjustly enriched at the expense of another, and the court imposes a trust on the assets acquired as a result.

  3. Quantum meruit: A legal principle that allows a person who has provided services to another, but who has not been paid, to make a claim for the reasonable value of those services.