Quantum Meruit vs. Quantum Valebat: A Business Attorney’s Guide to Unjust Enrichment and Implied Contracts

In the complex world of contracts and business transactions, the terms “Quantum Meruit” and “Quantum Valebat” often come up, especially when a dispute arises over payment for services or goods. While both legal doctrines aim to prevent unjust enrichment, they apply in different contexts and have distinct implications. Understanding these terms is crucial for business owners, contractors, and legal professionals alike. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you navigate these often-confusing legal waters.

What is Quantum Meruit?

Quantum Meruit, a Latin term meaning “as much as he has earned,” is often invoked in cases where services have been rendered but no formal contract exists, or where a contract exists but is either unenforceable or silent on certain terms. The doctrine allows a person to recover the reasonable value of services provided, preventing the other party from being unjustly enriched at their expense.

When is Quantum Meruit Applicable?

  1. No Formal Contract: When services are rendered without a formal contract.
  2. Unenforceable Contract: When a contract exists but is found to be unenforceable for some reason (e.g., lack of consideration, fraud, etc.).
  3. Incomplete Work: When a contract exists but the work is partially completed and payment for the partial work is not specified in the contract.

What is Quantum Valebat?

Quantum Valebat, a Latin term meaning “as much as he was worth,” is similar to Quantum Meruit but applies to goods rather than services. This doctrine allows a seller to recover the reasonable value of goods provided to another when no contract specifies the price, or when the contract is unenforceable.

When is Quantum Valebat Applicable?

  1. No Formal Contract: When goods are provided without a formal contract.
  2. Unenforceable Contract: When a contract exists but is found to be unenforceable.
  3. Partial Delivery: When a contract exists but only partial delivery of goods has been made, and the contract is silent on payment for the partial delivery.

Key Differences

  1. Scope: Quantum Meruit applies to services, while Quantum Valebat applies to goods.
  2. Legal Precedent: Quantum Meruit is more commonly invoked and has a broader range of case law to support it, whereas Quantum Valebat is less commonly used but still important in commercial transactions involving goods.
  3. Documentation: In both cases, the absence or inadequacy of a contract is a key factor, but the type of evidence required to prove the reasonable value may differ. Service-based claims often rely on industry standards, expert testimony, or past dealings, while goods-based claims may rely on market prices or invoices.

Legal Implications

Understanding these doctrines is crucial for drafting contracts and for dispute resolution. Failure to adequately address the terms for services or goods could lead to litigation where these doctrines may be invoked. As a business attorney, I strongly recommend consulting legal advice when entering into any business transaction, especially those that involve complex deliverables or high-value goods.


While Quantum Meruit and Quantum Valebat both aim to prevent unjust enrichment, they are not interchangeable. Knowing when and how to apply these doctrines can save businesses time and money, not to mention the reputational cost of legal disputes. Always consult with a qualified business attorney to ensure that your contracts are comprehensive and enforceable, thereby minimizing the risk of falling into these legal pitfalls.

Video Transcript

What is Quantum Meruit and Quantum Valebat?

What are Quantum Meruit and Quantum Valebat? Frankly, these are Latin terms. I am not even sure if I am pronouncing Valebat correctly. It is spelled V-A-L-E-B-A-T. I looked it up online before I hopped on here today to see how you pronounce that. There were differences of opinion because there is the Latin version and there is the American version, but let’s talk about what these concepts mean.

Why Should Business Owners Care?

You might say, “Why should I care? Why should a business owner care about Quantum Meruit and Quantum Valebat?” You should care because it is a really important legal doctrine that can protect you if you don’t have a contract in place. So when you don’t have a contract in place and you provide services or products for another person, you are entitled to reasonable compensation.

The Basics of Quantum Meruit

Why? Because if you provide services, you are entitled to reasonable compensation under the Common Law Doctrine of Quantum Meruit. What do these terms mean? Quantum means how much, or quantity, or volume. Meruit means the merit of something involved or the value of something involved. What is the value and quantity that were provided? That is essentially what Quantum Meruit means. So you are entitled to receive payment for the value of the services that you provide.

The Basics of Quantum Valebat

Let’s talk about Valebat. What does that mean? In the context of Quantum Valebat, Valebat means as much as it is worth, or the value of goods and products. So let’s say, for example, that you may not have an actual contract. The other side says, “I am interested in a hundred of these products shipped by Wednesday,” and you then ship those products to the other party by Wednesday, and the other party says, “You know what I was interested in. We don’t have a contract here. I never agreed to pay for them. And we didn’t even talk about terms or what the cost would be.”

Real-world Scenarios and Legal Implications

And so, under contract law theory, you probably don’t have a contract because you didn’t have an offer with the necessary specificity of terms and an acceptance of that offer. So you may not have a contract, but let’s say the other side says, “But I am going to keep them because you willingly gave me these hundred products, so I am going to keep them.” Do you have a right to be paid for this? Yes, under Quantum Valebat, you have a common law right to be paid the reasonable value of the products you provided, even though there is no contract because the other side kept those products. You have a right to a reasonable payment for them.

Case Study: The Painter’s Dilemma

Likewise, with a service, if the other side accepts the value of the service, you would have a right to be paid for it. Let’s say, for example, that you are a painter and you are going home to home and you walk up to someone’s home and you sit and talk with them about the color of the paint that they want and when you can complete it by, and you say, “Hey, I can start tomorrow morning.” Everything seems good, but they never actually said “I accept” or “Great. Let’s do it.” So you might have made a very clear offer. And then, let’s say, they see you drive up the next morning to paint the house; you start unloading your paint; you put the ladders up on the house; you lay out the painting mats; and it is very clear that you are about to start painting the house.

Legal Nuances and State-Specific Laws

And let’s say the homeowner goes, “Hahaha, I never agreed to pay. We talked about what they would paint and maybe even what the cost was, but I never agreed to it.” And so the homeowner just simply goes along gardening, maybe giving a nice little wave to the painter as the painter opens the paint cans and starts painting away. The homeowner might have a strong argument that there never was a contract, but under the doctrine of Quantum Meruit, the painter is entitled to payment even though there is no contract. Because of Quantum Meruit, the painter is entitled to be paid for the value of the services received by the homeowner.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

The homeowner had an opportunity to say, “No, don’t paint. I never agreed to it,” but instead just gave a little wave, implying to the painter that there was no objection to the painter proceeding with the paint. That is hypothetical, but it gives you an idea of what Quantum Meruit is. You would be amazed at how many times business owners don’t have contracts and provide services or products for each other, and one side decides they are not going to pay for it. Now, one thing to keep in mind with Quantum Meruit and Quantum Valebat is that you are entitled to be paid for the value of the services to the extent that they provided a benefit to the other side; the payment amount is based on the benefit, not what it costs you or what your standard prices are.

Additional Legal Frameworks to Consider

And by the way, too, this is under common law. There may be statutes in your state that provide additional claims or a basis for relief. For example, the Uniform Commercial Code, known as the UCC, provides for compensation if you are providing products under certain rules around bringing that claim, but that is a very related doctrine. And so if you are suing, you would probably sue for Quantum Meruit if we are talking about providing services, or Quantum Valebat if we are talking about goods and products; you would sue for promissory estoppel and breach of contract for both of those.

Conclusion: The Importance of Understanding Legal Concepts

And if you are suing for the provision of contracts and goods, you would probably also sue under the Uniform Commercial Code in your state. So Quantum Meruit, and Quantum Valebat, are very important concepts for business owners to understand because even if there is no contract, a party must pay if they receive value in the form of goods or services from another party.

If you are interested in becoming a business owner and getting educated on common mistakes business owners make and how to avoid them yourself, you can go to AaronHall.com/free and sign up to get several videos and other resources to help equip you to prevent problems in your business.

This is for entrepreneurs, startups, business owners, and CEOs; generally, I am thinking about companies with under 500 employees, even as few as one or two, because you as a business owner or a future business owner, can either prevent these problems or pay the much more expensive cost of having the problem and having to clean it up afterward. The purpose of this YouTube channel is to help you avoid problems, grow your company, provide great value to your customers and clients, create a great environment for the people that you work with, and experience the success that comes from having a good company built on best practices. I am Aaron Hall, an attorney for business owners and entrepreneurs.

If you have questions about any of this, feel free to put them in the comment section below. I look forward to seeing you next time.