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Equitable remedies refer to specific types of remedies available in court cases that can only be granted by a judge. A judge will grant, or not grant, a given equitable remedy based on the circumstances of a particular case. As such, equitable remedies are different from legal remedies or remedies granted by operation of law. When a remedy is granted by operation of law, the law essentially mandates that particular remedy; equitable remedies, on the other hand, are generally always decided on a case-by-case basis.
The term equitable remedy comes from the old English court system where there were two courts: courts of chancery and courts of law. Under this system, people would go to courts of chancery if the law didn't really provide them with relief but they still believed they had been wronged. Equitable remedies were and still are about what is fair and right.
A legal remedy, for example, would be damages for a breach of contract. Under the law, a person who is party to a contract can recover damages if the other person breaches. The damages are equal to the actual damages or loss he experienced as a result of the breach of contract. The law stipulates that this is the appropriate remedy.
A judicial remedy or equitable remedy for breach of contract, on the other hand, is not monetary damages. One example of an equitable remedy is an injunction. An injunction is granted when money wouldn't be enough to make the plaintiff whole again; in other words, if the defendant does something unfair and money can't fix it, an equitable remedy is more appropriate.
Equitable remedies look at how the defendant acted, how the plaintiff acted, and what each person's state of mind and behavior was. The judge then uses his discretion to decide what is and isn't fair. Another good example of an equitable remedy is equitable estoppel — this means that the defendant may be stopped or prevented from doing something if it wouldn't be fair.
There are also several other remedies considered equitable. Specific performance, which mandates that the terms of a contract actually be fulfilled, is another example of an equitable remedy. Generally, the remedies are any non-monetary or non-criminal remedies or penalties imposed by the judge to try to make the situation right.