Equitable Defense Law & Legal Definition


Equitable defenses are usually affirmative defenses asking the court to excuse an act because the party bringing the cause of action has acted in some inequitable way. Equitable defenses were formerly available only in a court of equity but it is now maintainable in a court of law. In U.S equitable defenses are available for relief at law where the remedy sought is one "at law". Mistake, fraud, illegality, failure of consideration, forum non conveniens, laches, estoppel, and unclean hands are a few examples of equitable defenses.

The doctrine of unclean hands denies a party equitable relief when there is evidence of bad faith. The defendant can bring in this defense when the plaintiff has acted in some inequitable way. In short a plaintiff in an equity claim should be innocent of any wrongdoing or risk dismissal of the case. Likewise doctrine of Laches proposes that a plaintiff should not "sleep on his or her rights.” If a plaintiff knows of the defendant's harmful actions but delays in bringing suit, and the delay works against the rights of the defendant, the plaintiff risks dismissal of the case. Under modern law, such defenses are available in any civil case.