Laches is one of many defenses to a lawsuit. As a business litigation attorney Memphis, TN trusts with its important business matters, we often see this defense haphazardly thrown into Answers filed by Defendants. We sometimes lightheartedly refer to it as the “you took too long” defense. More technically, the doctrine of laches can be summarized as follows:
Relief is generally refused by courts because of lapse of time, only in such cases where the loss of evidence, death of witnesses or parties, and failure of memory resulting in the obscuration of facts to the prejudice of the Defendant, render uncertain the ascertainment of truth, and make it impossible for the court to pronounce a decree with confidence … The doctrine of laches … is not an arbitrary or technical doctrine. No hard and fast rule for its application can be formulated.
The laches defense is based on the doctrine of equitable estoppel, and is only applied where the Defendant invoking it has been prejudiced by the delay of the Plaintiff. To recap, the two essential elements of the laches defense are:
(1) negligence and unexcused delay by the Plaintiff in asserting the claim,
(2) which results in injury/prejudice to the Defendant.
Courts often cite the death of witnesses or the loss of evidence as the kind of prejudice that, coupled with an unreasonable delay, amount to laches. It is also important to note that laches requires that the delay be inexcusable. To defend against a charge of laches, a Plaintiff should assert sufficient reasons accounting for the delay to the satisfaction of the judge.
If you need help with any business litigation matter, contact the trusted a business litigation attorney.
Thanks to our friends and contributors at Patterson Bray who have significant experience in contract drafting and business litigation.