Examples of equitable remedies include remedies obtained in situations involving a breach of contract. These remedies don't relate so much to monetary damages as they do to fairness.

What Is an Equitable Remedy?

In general, remedies may be legal or equitable.

In legal remedies, the non-breaching party can recover monetary damages. By contrast, a party may obtain an equitable remedy when a court forces the other party to perform to its part of the contract. This is in lieu of imposing a fine.

A court may decide on equitable remedies when it believes a simple payment of damages isn't good enough to settle the case.

A common type of equitable remedy used in the case of unique goods is called "specific performance." In this type, a court orders the breaching party to fulfill the exact terms of the agreement.

For example, you run an art gallery. It's contracted to display a piece by a well-known artist in an upcoming exhibition. However, the dealer doesn't deliver the piece. The court can then order the dealer to produce that exact piece.

Courts may also modify contract terms to make it more fair for one or both contractual parties. In cases where the contract is especially unfair to one side, the court may cancel or rescind the agreement altogether, which places both sides in the positions they were in prior to entering the contract.

Examples of Equitable Remedies

Common equitable remedies include the following:

  • Specific performance
  • Injunction
  • Restitution

Specific performance

A court may issue specific performance as an alternative remedy to damages, depending on the circumstances.

This example involves two parties, Ann and Cheryl. Ann signs a contract to sell a gold samovar to Cheryl. The samovar is a Russian antique holding a lot of sentimental value to Cheryl because it used to belong to her mother.

Ann then breaches the contract by not selling the samovar. A court may grant Cheryl an order of specific performance against Ann.

It seems reasonable for the non-breaching party to ask a court to order the promisor to do what it agreed to do. However, specific performance is very limited because it involves a unique item, such as an irreplaceable piece of personal property (the samovar, in this example) or piece of real estate.

When the item isn't unique, the non-breaching party can simply buy another one. A legal remedy of monetary damages would suffice.

Courts won't use specific performance to force a person to act against his or her will. While it may force a people to stop doing something they shouldn't, it can't force them do something they don't want to do.

Injunction

An injunction is another equitable remedy, which directs someone to stop doing something he or she shouldn't do.

For example, an employer and employee sign a non-compete agreement. After the employee leaves the employer, he breaches the contract by competing with his former company. A court may issue an order of injunction, directing him to stop such competition.

When a person makes a promise not to do something — in this case, to not compete — it's known as a negative covenant, or contractual promise.

In another example, a seller promises a buyer the right of first refusal on a unique artwork or real estate parcel. The seller breaches the written contract by offering the item to a third party. A court may order the seller not to sell to that third party.

Someone who violates an injunction may be held in contempt of court and sentenced to jail.

Restitution

Restitution is restoring to a party what was given to the other, and it applies to the following types of situations:

  • Incapacity or misrepresentation voids the contract.
  • One party breaches the agreement.
  • The party seeking restitution breaches the contract.

The injured party can only receive a fair amount of restitution because the point of it is to not punish the breaching party and to not unjustly enrich the non-breaching one.

When a contract is breached, different outcomes may result. Sometimes, awarding monetary damages is appropriate, but in other cases, courts may order equitable remedies instead, in the interest of fairness to all involved.

If you need help with contracts and equitable remedies, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.