Two Rivers, WI asked in Contracts and Business Law for Wisconsin

Q: What consitutes a valid verbal contract between a business and a potential customer?

In Sept, we got a rough estimate from a local tree trimmer to remove 3 branches from a tree overhanging our home. He was too busy for such work at the time. We agreed to wait until he was free, then we would revisit the estimate and specify the specific work we were looking at. 5 months later, the son of the owner (a high school student) told my wife (a high school teacher) that his brother (the actual tree trimmer) was now free to do the job. My wife told boy to have them contact me with an updated estimate and to discuss the actual specific limbs to be trimmed, and when. The next day, I came home in the afternoon to find the trees trimmed beyond what we had wanted - which also destroyed a woodpecker nest (we had been attracting this bird to our yard over the past 3 years). Limbs were left laying about instead of being cut to firewood length as we desired. We then got billed for 40% over the original rough estimate. Do we have a valid verbal contract that we are liable for?

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1 Lawyer Answer

Sarah Lynn Ruffi

Answered
  • Wausau, WI
  • Licensed in Wisconsin

A: Based on your facts, it does not seem that you had a contract. A contract requires a meeting of the minds (i.e. exactly what work would be done, when and the cost). As I understand your situation, you wanted 3 limbs removed, which did not include one containing a woodpecker nest. You asked to have the owner contact you to get an updated estimate and discuss the actual work to be done. However, instead of contacting you, they went ahead and cut more limbs that you actually requested, including one that you specifically did not want removed, at a cost significantly higher than the original estimate and left a mess. While you probably do not have a contract, the tree trimmer can argue that you were unjustly enriched because you received a benefit (had the limbs hanging over your home removed), you are retaining the benefit (the limbs are gone), and you should pay the value of the benefit. The question comes down to what is the actual value of the benefit.

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