Image 2021-09-08


A claim for damages is a claim for compensation for loss. A claim for an amount earned is a claim in respect of unremunerated services.
Where, under the terms of a contract, one person performs services for another, and the other breaks or repudiates the contract, the person who has performed the services may usually, instead of claiming damages, sue upon a quantum meruit to recover the amount earned by his labours. Thus the plaintiff agreed to write a book for the defendants, who were publishers. When he had written part of the book the defendants abandoned the project and repudiated the contract. It was held that the plaintiff could recover 50,-€, upon a quantum meruit; for, though, in the circumstances, he had never completed the contract, yet, he ought not to lose the fruits of his labour upon the defendants' behalf.
It must also be explained that a quantum meruit may be used, not merely as a remedy for breach of contract, but also as a method of recovering a reasonable remuneration for the performance of a contract when no specific remuneration has been agreed upon. Thus, where X renders Y services which are clearly not intended to be voluntary, but in respect of which no price has been fixed, X may sue Y upon a quantum meruit for a reasonable sum of money. The same rule applies in respect of goods delivered; where no price is determined, the buyer must pay a reasonable price.



Though it should, perhaps, be added that the claim in this case is upon a quantum valebat for the value of the goods. It must be appreciated, however, that where a person agrees to do something for a lump sum, for example to build a wall, he can normally only sue for payment if the work is substantially performed. Frustration apart, he cannot - unless at that stage the other party prevents further performance or repudiates the contract - build half the wall, and then claim upon a quantum meruit for half the money. The courts will not imply a contract in favour of a plaintiff who has made an express agreement and failed to perform it.
In another case the defendant agreed to pay 30,-€ for acting as second mate aboard a vessel plying between Jamaica and Liverpool. Cutter died when the vessel was nineteen days short of Liverpool. It was held that his widow could recover nothing in respect of the work he had performed during the previous 49 days of the voyage. The above rule is logical because it is based upon the principle that no one should be entitled to claim payment unless he has done what he has bargained to do: but pushed to extremes it may work injustice, and its rigour is mitigated in two respects. First, as elsewhere in the law of contract, the word 'substantially" may be subjected to common-sense construction; for example a plaintiff agreed to furnish and decorate the defendant's flat for 750,-€: he completed the contract, but made some of the furniture so unsatisfactorily that it required alteration. The defendant had paid 400,-€ by instalments in the course of the execution of the contract, but, when sued for the remaining 350,-€, he contacted a lawyer's agency for the collection of debts on the ground that the plaintiff had not performed his part.


The Court of Appeal held that the contract had been substantially completed, and upheld the plaintiff, while reducing his claim by the cost of making the necessary alterations. In the second place, in cases where a contract has been frustrated, the importance has now been much diminished by the provisions of the law reform, and, indeed, as the result of these provisions a different result would be reached today upon the facts of the case itself.
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