Laches is a type of defense that is available in some breach of contracts claims.  The basic idea behind laches is that a plaintiff cannot recover for breach of contract if they have delayed too long in filing the lawsuit. 

In order to prove laches, the defendant must prove that:  the plaintiff’s delay in filing the lawsuit was unreasonable; and the delay resulted in prejudice or negative effects upon the defendant. 

Thus, the defendant needs to be able to show that they experienced some sort of loss as a result of the plaintiff’s delay in filing suit.  For example, if the delay caused them to lose a significant amount of business, they may be able to raise a laches defense. 

What is Laches Applicable To?

Laches is categorized as an “equitable defense”.  This means that the defendant can only raise a laches defense if the plaintiff is seeking an equitable remedy.  An equitable remedy is one that doesn’t involve the court awarding the plaintiff with a monetary damages award.

Some examples of equitable remedies that laches may apply to include:

  • Specific Performance:  This is a type of remedy wherein the breaching party is required to fulfill their contractual duties and obligations
  • Contract Rescission:  This is where the old contract is cancelled or “rescinded”.  The parties are allowed to form a new contract in lieu of the old one.  Laches would prevent the plaintiff from claiming contract rescission as a remedy
  • Contract Reformation:  Reformation is where the court allows the parties to rewrite the portion of the contract that is in dispute.

Thus, any time the non-breaching plaintiff is seeking equitable relief, the defendant should check to see that the case was filed in a timely manner.  If not, the defendant may be able to claim laches as a defense if the delay resulted in prejudice against them.

Laches may also be applicable in many other areas of law, especially personal injury. 

What is Laches in Connection With the Statute of Limitations?

Generally, the statute of limitations refers to the time frame within which the plaintiff can file their lawsuit.  This may be different in each case- for example, the plaintiff may have 6 months to file, or they may have 2 years to file, depending on their legal claim.  If the statute of limitations has expired, the plaintiff can no longer file a lawsuit.

In comparison, the defense of laches has more to do with whether the plaintiff’s delay negatively affected the defendant, rather than any set time frame. 

Thus, laches can be claimed even though the plaintiff filed their lawsuit within the time frame set by the statute of limitations.  Any unreasonable delays once litigation has started can also trigger a laches defense. 

Do I Need a Lawyer if I Have a Legal Claim Involving Laches?

Laches can be a powerful defense if it is raised correctly.  If you have any questions such as “What is laches?” or “Does laches apply to my situation?” you may wish to hire a contracts lawyer for assistance.  A competent, experienced business attorney in your area can help you if you’ve been involved in a breach of contracts claim.  Contract laws vary by state, but your lawyer will be able to explain to you how the laws work, and can represent you in court during a lawsuit.