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a doctrine providing a party an EQUITABLE DEFENSE (see defense) where long-neglected rights are sought to be enforced against him or her. Laches signifies an undue lapse of time in enforcing a right of action, and negligence in failing to act more promptly. It recognizes that on account of the delay the defendant's ability to defend may be unfairly impaired because witnesses or evidence may have become unavailable or been lost. The doctrine also recognizes that if the delay has led the adverse party to change his or her position as to the property or right in question, it is inequitable to allow the negligent delaying party to be preferred in his or her legal right. The consequent barring of the negligent party's action is a kind of equitable estoppel known as ESTOPPEL BY LACHES.
EXAMPLE: Believing that he had good title to property, Kareem constructs an office building and fully rents it out. George watches Kareem construct the building and waits an additional ten years before asserting an ownership interest in the property. A court might apply the doctrine of laches and bar George's claim for two reasons. George was aware of the construction and took no action until the building was completed, a point at which Kareem had invested a considerable amount of money. Also, George took an inordinate amount of time to raise his claim.
Source: Barron's Dictionary of Legal Terms, Steven H. Gifis, 5th Edition; ©
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