Legal Question in Civil Litigation in Washington

My neighbor contacted a Lawn service company via Craigslist and hired them to manicure his lawn. When the workmen arrived, no one was home at my house or the neighbors, so they fell to and did my lawn instead. I got home and stopped them, but they were so close to done as to make no difference. They called their boss, who had dropped them off and pointed to MY house as the work site, and he came to fix things. His idea of fixing it was to yell at me and demand $250 for the service. Then he yelled at my neighbor and demanded payment. My neighbor refused to pay because his lawn hadn't been done. I refused to pay (but I did offer to negotiate) because I'd never even heard of this company, much less hired them. He would accept full payment and nothing else. The more we talked the more belligerent he became and the less I wanted to be in a conversation with him. So I thanked him very kindly for the free lawn service and went inside. He shouted at my back that he was going to call his lawyer and sue me. How many cards does he have? Who has the legal high ground?

Asked on 5/03/13, 12:45 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Amir John Showrai The Pacific Law Firm, PLLC
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I have to answer this question if only because it reminds me a case I read in law school. It was similar except that a roofing company came and put a new roof on the neighbor's home, who was out of town and did not notice.

The court there rules that under an equitable theory of "unjust enrichment" the neighbor still had to pay for the new roof, even though they did not ask for it, because the contractor had in good faith (albeit, by mistake) put the roof on the home, thereby conveying something of value to the non-requesting neighbor, which increased the value of said neighbor's home.

However, there is no legal theory (as opposed to equitable theory) to support such a requirement, and I recall reading a similar case to show where the opposite could occur, when the court did not consider the equitable theory, and simply held that there was no contract, that the contractor's work performed was done without permission and therefore is non-compensable.

For $250, the most you are going to get to is small claims court. He'd be wise to move on and check the address next time, or require someone to be home before he starts the work.

If he's bright, he'll take you up on a negotiated settlement and cut his losses. Depending on which judge you see, you may get one result or another. Bottom line: neither of you has the high ground in my opinion. If I were the judge, I'd likely split the difference and award the contractor his cost of labor and gas, but not give him the profit. Maybe $50-100 to him.

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5/03/13, 2:00 pm

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