How much does one truly deserve?

A critical analysis of the New Zealand and Australian High Courts' approach to quantum meruit claims within the construction industry

The Australian High Court case of Mann v Paterson Construction Pty Ltd and the New Zealand High Court case of Electrix Limited v The Fletcher Construction Company Limited both involved claims of non-contractual quantum meruit by contractors seeking compensation for services performed.  The judgments, which were issued one closely following the other, show the different ways the law of restitution has been understood and developed under Australian and New Zealand law. 

This essay makes the comment that:

  • In light of the Construction Contracts Act 2002, the New Zealand Court’s interpretation of quantum meruit as a mechanism to restore the plaintiff’s position rather than being exclusively tethered to unjust enrichment is the correct approach. 
  • Where there was an enforceable contract to begin with, the contract price should act as a cap on amounts recoverable in a quantum meruit claim. 
  • Conversely, where there was no enforceable contract to begin with, the amount recoverable should have regard to the project specific costs to ensure that a reasonable compensation is made to the plaintiff.  

To read Katie’s submission essay to the New Zealand Society of Construction Law Essay Prize 2021, please click here.

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