What Is Unjust Enrichment?

Unjust enrichment is one party profiting at the expense of another. Most unjust enrichment situations occur accidentally or by mistake. In these situations, however, the party that received the unjust enrichment has to pay restitution to the other party. Understanding the state laws surrounding this issue can help you know what to do if you get into a situation where you or another party unfairly benefits at the other’s expense.

Unjust Enrichment Restitution vs. Personal Injury Compensation

Restitution and compensation are not the same things in a personal injury lawsuit. Compensation is something the courts may award based on what the plaintiff lost in an accident. Restitution is a penalty against a party for what he or she gained. The amount of compensation will depend on the damages the plaintiff suffered, while the amount of restitution is typically the extra money one party received that should have gone to the other party. An unjust enrichment case may require the enriched party to return a specific thing it gained, rather than pay the value of the property.

Unjust enrichment might not be something one party does on purpose. However, it would be unethical to keep the money or property at the other party’s expense. Thus, the enriched party should come forward to remedy the situation. The courts may then order that party to pay restitution to the party that suffered in the incident. The unjustly enriched party generally will not suffer any negative consequences other than having to pay restitution, unless the courts determine that the party intentionally benefitted at the other party’s expense.

Examples of Unjust Enrichment

Unjust enrichment can occur under many different circumstances. It is most common in business relationships involving contractual obligations. If one of the parties does not fulfill the terms of the contract, that party could benefit at the other party’s expense. Understanding what factors generally point to unjust enrichment can help you determine if you have a claim. A consultation with an attorney may confirm your suspicions.

  • Business contract breaches. If a company, such as a product supplier, promises in a contract to supply certain goods but fails to do so, he or she could benefit from unjust enrichment. The supplier will still receive payment for the goods, yet the buyer will never receive the goods. Restitution in this case may come in the form of providing the goods purchased or offering money back for the goods not received.
  • Incomplete jobs. Another type of unjust enrichment scenario is if someone pays another person to do a job in advance, but that person does not complete the job. In this situation, the worker would owe the employer restitution for the portion of the job not completed, or else would have to complete the job. It would be up to the employer to take the worker to court for unjust enrichment.
  • Sales mistakes. Some unjust enrichment scenarios involve a customer accidentally receiving a higher quantity or quality of product for what the customer paid. Paying for a synthetic ring, for example, but receiving a real diamond ring, would be unjust enrichment. It would be the customer’s ethical duty to return the ring or pay the difference.

Proving unjust enrichment can be difficult. It is necessary to prove that the situation involved a mistake, intimidation, a failure to consider, or undue influence. These are common elements involved in unjust enrichment lawsuits. The plaintiff or his or her lawyer will have to demonstrate that enrichment did occur, that it occurred at the plaintiff’s expense, that the enrichment was unfair or unjust, and that the plaintiff can request specific remedies. Hiring a lawyer to help with your unjust enrichment claim can make the legal process much easier on you and your family after a personal injury or breach of contract.