In theory, some civil or criminal lawsuits can come up at any time, even years after an incident occurred.
It doesn’t mean that every single case will be legally legitimate.
In these cases, time is always a factor.
But there are those who will try to ignore time and would rather wait a while and then ambush you with a claim from years ago, perhaps expecting and knowing that you won’t’ have a good defense to put forth.
But in legal circles, that would not be fair. And some legal doctrine demands a fair trial process.
And in situations where there is no statute of limitations on the books, a potential defendant in one of these “ambush” lawsuits can claim what is called a Laches defense to nullify the claim.
The Laches defense is a tactic that essentially protects defendants from these kinds of lawsuits based on an unreasonable time frame in the claim being filed. If the amount of time has passed is sufficient to essentially prevent the defendant from launching a fair defense, the case can be dismissed – despite the validity of the claim – based on the Laches defense.
What determines a valid Laches defense? There are a few things that must be present (or not present, as the case may be):
- Lack of effective witnesses because of death or relocation.
- Erosion or disappearance of evidence.
- The property the plaintiff wants to recover (if applicable) is n longer into eh defendant’s possession.
- The defendant’s situation has changed for the worse since the incident; meaning that he or she would be less likely to meet any monetary award.
Of course, not all of these elements have to be present in a Laches defense, and even if they all were present, the judge ultimately has discretion in determining whether a Laches defense can be used in that particular claim. As every situation and judge is different, it is difficult to establish any precedent in such cases, so it is always case-specific.
What makes a Laches defense different from a case that has a statute of limitations? A statute of limitations is a law on the books that give a specific time frame for a claim or charges to be brought against a defendant. In these cases, the time frame is codified as a number of months or years and the factors mentioned above for a Laches defense are irrelevant.
A Laches defense is used in other cases in which the incident or the alleged offense does not have a specific statute of limitations on it. There is enough of a risk of nullification that if you have a claim, you are always encouraged to file that claim as quickly as possible to keep your claim legitimate in the eyes of the court.
An ambush is the least popular bush in legal circles.