When a breach of contract happens, it’s only natural for the aggrieved party to ask the court for a remedy – but what if they don’t take action within a reasonable amount of time?
The longer the time that passes between an incident and the lawsuit that follows, the harder it can be for the opposing party to effectively defend themselves. Witnesses move away or die, supporting documentation can be lost or destroyed and memories fade. That’s when a laches defense may be considered.
How is a laches defense different from a statute of limitations?
Both statutes of limitations and laches are designed to ensure that legal claims are asserted without unnecessary delays. A statute of limitations is established by law, so the only thing that needs to be considered when it is raised as a defense is whether or not the time limit for making a claim has passed.
In California, for example, a breach of a written contract has to be brought within four years (and within two years if the contract was oral), so any claim brought after that point would likely be dismissed.
By comparison, laches is an affirmative defense that’s rooted in equity and fairness and has to be decided based on whether:
- The plaintiff unreasonably delayed their claim. What constitutes an unreasonable delay can vary depending on the circumstances of the case.
- The defendant had knowledge of the plaintiff’s intent to assert a claim during the delay.
- The plaintiff’s delay in asserting their rights has caused prejudice to the defense and put them in a worse position than they would have been if the action had been timely.
In essence, a laches defense is designed to prevent the non-breaching party from taking an unfair advantage due to the passage of time and their own neglect.
Breach of contract claims have many nuances, and a laches defense is very case-specific. Experienced legal guidance can help you learn if it’s possible to raise this defense if you’re facing a lawsuit.