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Legal Remedies Vs. Equitable Remedies

March 22, 2024

Posted in Uncategorized

In civil lawsuits, attorneys can ask the court to grant different types of relief, called remedies. These remedies can be split up into two categories – legal and equitable. Legal remedies, also referred to as “in rem” remedies, satisfy the needs of the plaintiff by awarding them money or property. Equitable remedies, also referred to as “in personam” remedies, orders an individual or entity to do something, or stop doing something. In other words, legal remedies allow the court to do something for the plaintiff, whereas equitable remedies allow the court to do something to the defendant. A plaintiff may seek either legal or equitable remedies, or may seek both simultaneously, depending on the type of loss the plaintiff has suffered.

Legal Remedies

An accident lawyer most commonly pursues legal remedies. In most cases, parties have a right to a jury trial to decide factual issues for these types of monetary damages. After a verdict has been issued, the judge will enforce a legal order for a defendant to pay money. There are various forms of legal remedies available, but the types listed below are the most common that arise in a personal injury case.

  • Compensatory Damages. Compensatory damages are the most common type of damages awarded to a plaintiff. They compensate a plaintiff for the harm or damage they have experienced, in hopes of making a plaintiff “whole” again. These damages are split into two categories – direct and consequential damages.
      • Direct Damages. Also referred to as general, or non-economic damages, these flow from the natural result of the tort committed by the defendant. These include pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life. These things are hard to assign a dollar amount to, as there is no price tag on how much pain and suffering one has experienced.
      • Consequential Damages. Also referred to as special, or economic damages, these damages result naturally, but not necessarily from the defendant’s conduct. These include things that are easily calculated, such as medical expenses, lost earnings or income, and property damage bills. 
  • Punitive Damages. Punitive damages exist to punish the defendant to deter the same misconduct from occurring again, and to show the jury’s dislike of the act itself. A plaintiff must show that the defendant acted maliciously, fraudulently, or with oppression to injure the plaintiff. 
  • Nominal Damages. Nominal damages are sought if a plaintiff wishes to sue a defendant to prove the defendant breached a duty and broke the law. This type of damage does not compensate the plaintiff with money, as a plaintiff usually suffers no substantial harm. Plaintiffs have been awarded as little as $1 to show that they were wronged.
  • Statutory Damages. Statutory damages are specified within a statute rather than calculated by the degree of harm to the plaintiff. A common example of when statutory damages may be sought is when an attorney requests the opposing side to pay their fees.

Equitable Remedies

Equitable remedies order an individual to do something to alter the “status quo,” or to stop doing something to preserve the “status quo.” The “status quo” refers to an existing state or condition. In other words, a judge imposes a restriction, or instruction, that directly affects the defendant’s personal freedom. In some cases, the defendant lacks a right to a jury trial for an equitable remedy because the risk of harm posed is so great. Below are common examples of different types of equitable remedies.

  • Prohibitive Injunctions. A prohibitive injunction is issued by a judge to preserve the status quo by preventing certain conduct. For example, a judge might order a manufacturer of a certain product to stop manufacturing or selling that product due to the danger it poses until the case is tried and a final verdict has been rendered. 
  • Mandatory Injunctions. Mandatory injunctions alter the status quo by forcing certain conduct. For example, if a plaintiff was injured at a hotel due to a broken staircase, they could request the court to impose a mandatory injunction on the defendant hotel to make necessary repairs to ensure the dangerous conditions are promptly addressed. 
  • Permanent Injunctions. These types of injunctions are permanent, and only awarded after the merits of a dispute are fully determined. The facts on which a permanent injunction is based can be established through trial, summary judgment or by agreement of the parties. 
  • Interim Injunctions. An interim injunction is a pre-trial injunction that can be obtained by filing a motion, along with or before filing the complaint, showing good cause that the plaintiff would suffer irreparable harm without one. These can be granted without notice to the defendant. A common example is a temporary restraining order, typically lasting 14 or 15 days. 

Thanks to Eglet Adams for their insight on legal and equitable remedies. 

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