The assumpsit legal definition is considered an implied promise included in a contract. Assumpsit was formerly a common-law action that was used to recover damages in the event of a breach of contract. This action may be grounds for a lawsuit under the umbrella of breach of contract. By definition, an assumpsit is a promise by one party to undertake obligations for another person. The promise may be oral or written, but cannot be under seal.

Types of Assumpsit

There are two types of assumpsit depending on how the promise is put forth:

  • Express assumpsit - An assumpsit is considered express if the promise is agreed to in specific language, where a party agrees to verbally, or in writing, pay a sum of money or perform a specific act.
  • Implied assumpsit - Implied assumpsit means that the obligation was implied by the party through either their conduct or the circumstances of the dealings. In this situation, there is no formal promise for action, or a specified amount of money promised. Yet the actions are assumed due to conduct performed by the party. To meet the presumption requirements, it must first be presumed that one of the parties will be enriching themselves and that the receiver indicates their desire to receive it by accepting it without issue, such as receiving a newspaper. Finally, the obligation must be deemed useful to one party.

An assumpsit legal action involves the recovery of damages due to the non-performance that is under contract. This action differs from an action of debt in legal consideration due to the fact that recovering debt may be the result of a deed or a contract. It also differs from a covenant which can only be supported by contracts that are under seal.

An example of assumpsit is when someone wishes to make a recovery for money that had been lent, paid, or received in the use by the plaintiff. In some cases, the money may have been received by the defendant in a consequence of a tortious act of the plaintiff's property. In the latter situation, the plaintiff is allowed to forgo the tort and sue the defendant.

The division of the action of assumpsit can be separated into two categories including:

  • Indebitatus or common assumpsit, which is brought about due to an implied promise
  • Special assumpsit, which occurs with an express promise

An action of assumpsit also differs from actions such as trespass and trover which were founded on the principals of tort law and not subject to contract law or covenant of debt. Under these actions, recovery is often gained from specific property instead of damages.

The Origination of Assumpsit

The term assumpsit is derived from the Latin word assumere which translates to "he undertook." The term refers to making a promise to another party in exchange for another act, or monetary reward. An assumpsit is able to be made verbally or formally in writing and was originally a common law term that asserted whether a contract had been made, and whether or not being allowed to claim breach of contract is possible.

Assumpsit began in the 14th-century common law and was used by the royal courts to be able to settle disputes that arose from breaching contracts. Before the 13th-century English law, the King would not have a hand in settling disputes over private agreements but only would settle disputes between other nobleman or royal rights.

As trade began to grow in the kingdom, the royal courts began to hear actions that were linked to breach of contract, debt, and assumpsit. At the time these types of actions could only be used for agreements that had been officially made in writing and where one party failed to make payment.

Later into the 14th-century, the court allowed a plaintiff to seek a lawsuit against a defendant who had attempted to cure a horse, but their actions were so negligent that the horse dies as a result. This is a case of assumpsit where a party took the responsibility of curing the horse and did not perform.

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