in pari delicto

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A Latin phrase commonly used in tort and contract law which means “in equal fault.” This is doctrine states that there is a bar to a plaintiff’s recovery of damages for a wrong the plaintiff participated in and serves as an equitable defense. Courts are therefore reluctant to award relief to plaintiffs who have unclean hands.  In pari delicto is similar to but distinct from the related concepts of contributory negligence and comparative negligence.

In addition, if the parties in a suit are found liable in pari delicto as joint tortfeasors, the potential remedies available to them are restricted. Due to the fact that both parties were equally responsible for committing a tort, indemnity is not available to them as a remedy though each party may seek contribution from the other, or if an involved party is vicariously liable for another and must pay more than their proportional share, they may seek contribution from that other party. However, joint tortfeasors who are not in pari delicto may generally be entitled to indemnification from the other party. Also, if the tortfeasors in either scenario violated some equitable norm, then the clean-hands doctrine may further restrict the award of any equitable remedies.

[Last updated in July of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]