Unjust enrichment is a situation in which someone enjoys benefits at the expense of someone else. When someone is unjustly enriched, she or he does not pay or otherwise compensate for the benefits experienced. This is deemed unfair in eyes of the law and the person who receives the benefits may be ordered to pay restitution. This is usually accomplished by filing a civil suit on the grounds of unjust enrichment, with the court awarding damages if the case is judged in favor of the person who provided the benefits.
Several characteristics must be present in a case for it to be considered unjust enrichment. The first must be a demonstration of some sort of benefits received from someone else, which could include anything from economic benefits to property improvements. The person who receives the benefits must also acknowledge them, making it clear that they are viewed as benefits. Finally, deprivation must be present, with the person who receives the benefits not providing any compensation in exchange.
In a somewhat simplistic example of unjust enrichment, if someone hires a contractor to build a swimming pool and the contractor notices a problem with the plumbing and fixes it without pay, this could be considered unjust enrichment. The property owner is receiving a benefit as a result of something the contractor did and the property owner did not have to expend any money or effort to receive it. The contractor could bill for the work and if the property owner refused to pay, a suit could be filed.
The circumstances surrounding unjust enrichment can vary considerably. For example, people may feel manipulated or forced into providing benefits for others, as for example when employees are pressured to work overtime without clocking in so that their employers do not have to pay. Likewise, people may embark upon an activity with an expectation of being compensated, only to learn that the beneficiary does not intend to pay.
It is important to distinguish unjust enrichment from charity. Someone who receives charity is indeed benefiting from the actions of someone else, but the person who donates is also receiving benefits, not least of which is a tax deduction for charitable donations. For a situation to be deemed unjust enrichment, it must be shown that the person providing the benefits received no compensation or consideration for his or her work or efforts, and that the person who received the benefits was aware of this fact.