Judicial Estoppel — When Your Legal Opponent Changes Their Story


Civil court is designed to be the place where facts are sorted out and justice is provided for ordinary citizens. But unscrupulous parties can try to twist it for their own purposes. One way this happens is when someone changes their story over the course of multiple court appearances. How does this occur? And how can judicial estoppel protect you? Here's what you need to know.

What is Judicial Estoppel?

Judicial estoppel is defined as a "doctrine that prevents a party from taking a position that is contrary to a position the party took in an earlier legal proceeding". 

In essence, it permits a judge to prevent one party from using two completely contradictory positions regarding the same element in different court settings. It only applies to positions taken under oath. 

How Does Judicial Estoppel Affect You?

This may be a confusing and esoteric legal term, but it has real-world effects in some cases. 

Consider a car accident in which two people were in the vehicle which hit you. Person A was arrested for drunk driving and pleaded guilty in order to get a reduced sentence. However, in your personal injury lawsuit, Person A claims that Person B was actually the one driving, and Person A has no liability. 

These two positions are completely inconsistent with one another. Person A cannot be both guilty of drunk driving and also not the driver. Judicial estoppel may permit the judge to ban them from using this new, contradictory argument to try to wriggle out of your lawsuit. 

When Might Judicial Estoppel Not Apply?

A judicial estoppel is a powerful tool when needed. It prevents litigants from acting in bad faith and wasting everyone's time. It protects your right to a fair trial and prevents you from having to cover the cost of unnecessary arguments in a trial. 

However, because this tool is so powerful, it must be exercised carefully. The situation must meet several key criteria to apply for judicial estoppel, including the circumstances of both claims and how contradictory they are. The court must also have accepted and relied on the earlier claim. 

In the example above, Person A might argue that the two positions are not contradictory or that they were misrepresented in the first claim. Estoppel cannot be used to circumvent the court's role in seeking out the truth. If the judge finds a compelling reason to investigate the veracity of both positions, the person may be allowed to pursue it. 

Where Can You Learn More?

Could a defendant in your case change their story in court? If so, you may need to know how to use judicial estoppel to prevent your trial from being derailed. Learn more about it by meeting with a personal injury attorney in your area today.


20 June 2023

My Day in Court

When I sued a product manufacturer after a disfiguring accident, I never expected to actually go to court. I assumed that the case would eventually be settled, like most personal injury cases are. To my surprise, they wouldn't budge, and we ended up having to go all the way to court. I was pretty nervous about testifying, but I had a great attorney that prepared me well, and everything went smoothly. In the end, the jury saw things my way. I realized that I probably wasn't the only person to ever experience an unexpected day in court, and that's how I got the idea to start this blog. If you're looking for tips to help you prepare or wondering what to expect when you go to court for a lawsuit, this blog contains important information for you.