In Law, what is Extinguishment?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 05 February 2020
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Extinguishment is the termination of a power, contract, estate, or right under the law. There are a number of circumstances which can lead to this. These range from a satisfaction of terms which concludes a contract to allowing a right to lapse and thus losing the ability to defend it in a court of law. Once the right to action has been lost under extinguishment, a matter cannot be pursued further.

One of the most common reasons for extinguishment is the lapse of time. Under the law, certain rights must be asserted within a given time period or they are terminated. This is done to avoid situations in which people might otherwise have protracted liability. For example, a patient has the right to sue a hospital for malpractice, but must exercise this right within a reasonable time period unless the patient can show a good reason for a delay. This ensures that hospitals cannot be held liable for cases which occurred in the distant past where they would be at a disadvantage in terms of finding records, witnesses, and other supporting evidence.


Successful satisfaction can also result in extinguishment. The conclusion of a contract, wrapping up of an estate, or discharge of a debt can all be examples. When someone fails to fulfill a contract but it is terminated anyway, as might happen if a creditor agrees to forgive part of a debt, this also results in extinguishment. In these situations, one party has given up a right and thus cannot enforce it in court. Events can also contribute to extinguishment; for instance, a company merger would effectively negate or nullify contracts.

Once extinguishment has occurred, it is not possible to take a matter up in court because in the eyes of the court, there is no matter to discuss. For this reason, it is very important to be careful about situations which might result in the revoking or reassigning of rights. For instance, if a hospital offers to settle out of court on a malpractice matter, the terms of the settlement usually include a clause which states that the patient gives up the right to bring the matter back to court in the future.

It is also advisable to confirm that all of the paperwork is in order after an extinguishment to prevent unexpected surprises. People who satisfy debts in full, for example, should receive a document indicating that they have repaid the loan and that the contract has been extinguished as the debtor has satisfied the terms.


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