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Estoppel is a legal doctrine that prevents a party from denying or alleging a fact that is inconsistent with a previous position they have taken. This doctrine can arise in a number of contexts, including contract law, property law, and evidence law. It ensures fairness in the legal system by requiring consistency in claims related to a single matter. This means that parties cannot make conflicting claims regarding the same issue in different legal cases. For example, if someone claims ownership of a piece of land in one case, they cannot then claim they don’t own it in another.

Additionally, estoppel prevents the re-examination of the same facts in multiple cases. It plays a crucial role in promoting fairness and equality in legal proceedings by preventing parties from exploiting loopholes or presenting inconsistent arguments.

Types of Estoppel

Estoppel is a widespread legal principle that exists in virtually every jurisdiction and comes in several forms:

  1. Promissory estoppel, which is mainly applied in contract law.
  2. Collateral estoppel, which prohibits re-litigating the same issue.
  3. Estoppel by deed, which prevents false statements about a deed.
  4. Equitable estoppel, which ensures consistency in legal positions.

Although the names of these forms of estoppel may vary across different regions, the fundamental principles remain constant. Estoppel is an important concept that helps ensure fairness and consistency in legal proceedings.

Examples in Personal Injury:

Let’s consider a scenario where a drunk driver causes a crash. The collision injures two individuals: the passenger in the drunk driver’s vehicle and the person in the other car involved. Both victims bring a claim against the drunk driver for the drunk driving accident.

If these claims reach the court, the drunk driver could try to use two different defenses to avoid responsibility.

  • Against the person in the other vehicle, the drunk driver might claim that they were not drunk and instead, it was the other driver who caused the crash.
  • Against the passenger in their car, the drunk driver admits to drinking but argues that the passenger was aware of the situation and made the reckless decision to get into the car with them.

These two defenses are not in line with each other. The truth is that the driver was either drunk or sober, they can’t have it both ways. The principle of estoppel will prevent them from making inconsistent claims, and they will have to choose one version of events or accept the one the court determines.

How Estoppel is Enforced:

The enforcement of estoppel takes place through the court system. One party in the legal dispute can bring attention to the inconsistency and request the court to declare it as “estopped.” If the court deems it as estopped, the inconsistent line of reasoning is no longer admissible in that particular case. For instance, in the case of the drunk driver, the person from the other vehicle who was injured can highlight the driver’s admission of being drunk in the previous case and ask the court to reject his claim of sobriety. As a result, the court would then require the driver to defend their case on other grounds.