Unjust enrichment: Supreme Court enlightenment

There are countless circumstances in which common sense and commercial awareness dictate that legal recourse should be available where one party has unfairly gained at the expense of another and yet there is no contract or tort available to give rise to a claim. The law of restitution, and in particular the principle of unjust enrichment, can apply in such cases, to ensure that justice is nevertheless served.

Unjust enrichment can sometimes even apply alongside breaches of contract or tortious wrongs, as an additional and alternative basis of claim. To say that it is such an important part of our legal framework, there are surprisingly few instances of unjust enrichment coming before the courts. The recent case of Benedetti v Sawiris and othersis a valuable reminder of the key principles of restitution and unjust enrichment and delivers an important development to this under-used remedy.

The purpose of a restitutionary remedy, unlike a contractual or a tortious remedy, is not to compensate a claimant, but rather to deprive a defendant of a benefit which it does not deserve. An unjust enrichment action is a restitutionary claim which seeks to reverse a defendant’s enrichment which has occurred unjustly and at the expense of the claimant. Such claims generally occur when, for example, a defendant has received money or goods from the claimant, or has saved a potential expenditure as a result of some action or expenditure of the claimant but, for whatever reason, the defendant has not recompensed the claimant. The value of an unjust enrichment claim is not the value of the claimant’s loss but the value of the defendant’s gain and that is assessed as quantum meruit(or a fair and reasonable sum)…

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