Am I liable if a contractor does work without a contract?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Am I liable if a contractor does work without a contract?

I experienced a significant plumbing problem in my home requiring the excavation of the basement and installation of a new sewer pipe under the home. The plumber assured us he had experience with this problem before and it would be covered by homeowners insurance. He met with myself and the insurance adjustor at the home. The adjustor verbally stated it was an ‘open and shut’ case and we should proceed, though no formal approval was given. The job was completed over the course of five days. Following completion the insurance agency contacted us to say the problem will not be covered. The plumber is now using a private insurance adjustor and lawyer in an attempt to negotiate with the insurance company case is pending. I am wondering what my ultimate responsibilities might be. The plumber did the job with no contract or agreed upon price prior to beginning he was very confident this would be covered as was I. I signed no paperwork with him. I hope he is able to make a deal with the insurance agency but I wonder what will happen if he can not.

Asked on May 24, 2018 under Business Law, Pennsylvania


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

If you told him to proceed--and if it was your home, you had to have, since he could not do work there without your approval--if he is not paid otherwise, you would be liable to pay him the reasonable (e.g. the fair market cost; what most plumbers in your area would get for this work) cost of his services and materials/supplies. There *was* an agreement, even if only an oral (unwritten one): knowing that he is a professional plumber who charges for his services (and not a family member or friend telling you he'd do this for free), you asked him to do work in your house--that creates an agreement to pay him for the work. He can sue to enforce that agreement ("breach of contract") and get the reasonable amount he should get; he could also sue based on "unjust enrichment" because the law doe not let you get the benefit of services for which you know someone should be paid without paying for them.

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