Legal Definition of unjust enrichment
- A legal procedure whereby you can seek reimbursement from another who benefited from your action or property without legal justification. There are said to be three conditions which must be met before you can get a court to force reimbursement based on "unjust enrichment": an actual enrichment or benefit to the defendant, a corresponding deprivation to the plaintiff, and the absence of a legal reason for the defendant's enrichment.
Example: (and only theoretically as many countries have laws which have modified equity law in some situations) If you found somebody else's cash and spent it, you might be sued for reimbursement under unjust enrichment. The legal theory behind unjust enrichment is the constructive trust, which the court imposes upon the circumstances to hold the person unjustly enriched as the trustee for the person who should properly get the property back, held to be the beneficiary of the constructive trust.
Definition of unjust enrichment
Unjust enrichment is a legal term denoting a particular type of causative event in which one party is unjustly enriched at the expense of another, and an obligation to make restitution arises, regardless of liability for wrongdoing.
Determination of liability
Liability under the principle of unjust enrichment is wholly independent of liability for wrongdoing. Claims in unjust enrichment do not depend upon proof of any wrong. However, it is possible that on a single set of facts a claim based on unjust enrichment and a claim based on a wrong may both be available. A claim based on unjust enrichment always results in an obligation to make restitution. A claim based on a wrong always results in an obligation to make compensation, but may additionally result in an obligation to make restitution and on the other hand it will result in an obligation to make reimbursement which will allow the normal citizen to the courts for its wrongdoing which it never intended to do so. For discussion of restitution for wrongs, see the page on restitution.
At common law, a claim based on unjust enrichment can be submitted to five stages of analysis. These can be summarized in the form of the following questions:
- Was the defendant enriched?
- Was the enrichment at the expense of the claimant?
- Was the enrichment unjust?
- Does the defendant have a defense?
- What remedies are available to the claimant?
- Peter Birks, Unjust Enrichment (2005) Clarendon Law Series
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