, also called an implied-in-law contract
, is a legal substitute for a contract
. A quasi-contract is a contract that should
have been formed, even though in actuality it was not. It is used when a court wishes to create an obligation upon a non-contracting party to avoid injustice and to ensure fairness. It is invoked in circumstances of unjust enrichment
Quasi-contracts are defined to be "the lawful and purely voluntary acts of a man, from which there results any obligation whatever to a third person, and sometime a reciprocal obligation between the parties. It "is not legitimately done, but the terms are accepted and followed as if there is a legitimate contract."
According to the Oklahoma
pattern jury instructions
, the elements of quasi-contract are:
Knowledge, the second element, is required, and if the defendant had no knowledge of the benefits, there would be no contract of any kind, even a quasi-contract.
In contracts, it is the consent of the contracting parties which produces the obligation; in quasi-contracts no consent is required, and the obligation arises from the law or natural equity, on the facts of the case. These acts are called quasi-contracts, because, without being contracts, they bind the parties as contracts do.
"A quasi-contract is not really a contract at all in the normal meaning of a contract," according to one scholar, but rather is "an obligation imposed on a party to make things fair."
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has:
The defendant's liability under quasi-contract is equal to the value of the benefit conferred by the plaintiff. The value is the fair market value
of the benefit and not necessarily the subjective value that the defendant enjoys. A traditional measure of the fair market value is called quantum meruit
, for "as much as is deserved." For example, accountant prepares tax-payer's taxes, finding a way to get him an unusually large refund. Tax-payer doesn't pay accountant. Assuming a court finds no contract, tax-payer is only liable for the fair market value of tax preparation services, which is not inflated up to account for the unusually large refund he enjoyed.
Under Oklahoma law:
The party to be charged is any defendant, or in the case of a guarantee or surety, a co-defendant, in a breach of contract lawsuit.
An example of a quasi-contract is the case of a plumber who accidentally installs a sprinkler system in the lawn of the wrong house. The owner of the house had learned the previous day that his neighbor was getting new sprinklers. That morning, he sees the plumber installing them in his own lawn. Pleased at the mistake, he says nothing, and then refuses to pay when the plumber hands him the bill. Will the man be held liable for payment? Yes, if it could be proven that the man knew that the sprinklers were being installed mistakenly, the court would make him pay because of a quasi-contract. If that knowledge could not be proven, he would not be liable.
There are many more examples of quasi-contracts. A painter, who mistakenly paints a house with the owner's knowledge, can sue in court to get paid. A mechanic who fixes the brakes to a car as requested, but who also fixes the axle, has an implied quasi-contract. For a casual job, there is almost never a written contract, but often a quasi-contract. A homebuilder who signs a contract with a purported agent, who actually has no authority, can recover the cost of the services and materials from the homeowner.