If I had a contract to have work done on my boat and paid $5000, how can I get my money back since the work has never been done?

UPDATED: Sep 29, 2022

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If I had a contract to have work done on my boat and paid $5000, how can I get my money back since the work has never been done?

It was a family operated business. The lead person at the business died 6 months ago (husband). I was told by the wife, who took over the operation they would still do the work, they since have shut down the business and no work has been performed; I have not been reimbursed my $5000. They are incorporated. What do I do to get my money?

Asked on November 3, 2015 under Business Law, Florida


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 7 years ago | Contributor

In theory, you can sue them for the return of the money. You would sue on the basis of breach of contract (not doing what they contractually--whether the contract was written or oral--agreed to do) and unjust enrichment (being inequitably and improperly "enriched" by keeping your money without doing any work for it).
However, if the business was a corporation, you can only sue the corporation itself, not the owners; that means that if the company has been shut down or is insolvent/inactive, even if you win the suit, you may not get your money if there is no money there--a court judgment does not make money appear where there is none. (And if the corporation has been dissolved, there's not even anyone left to sue, just like you could not sue a person who passed away.)
You could *try* to "pierce the corporate veil" and sue the family owners directly IF you believe that the corporation was essentially pre-textual; that is, it didn't really have an independent existence and they comingled personal and corporate funds. But be advised, this is very difficult to do and is only rarely successful; the strong presumption in the law is that corporations are valid.

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