What Is Without Prejudice?
The term “without prejudice” has both a specific legal and a more general meaning.
In mainstream usage, the word “prejudice” was often used to indicate the presence of set ideas that one had against a particular group or race, so that “prejudiced” came to be a comparatively neutral stand-in for the more incendiary terms “racist” or “bigot.”
However, more generally, in business or legal proceedings, it is understood rather literally – a “pre-judgment.” It means that, if a transaction or a legal proceeding is entered into “without prejudice,” whatever happens as a result will not be the final word on the matter, that either party would be free to pursue further action without being bound by any “pre-judgment.”
Specifically, in legal terms, it means “without any loss or waiver of rights or privileges,” and is commonly invoked in two situations:
In the first, documents or letters may be presented “without prejudice” during pre-trial settlement discussions. This generally indicates that the contents that follow cannot be used as evidence, taken as admission of liability or guilt or used as a precedent.
However, if no agreement is reached and the case does go to court, each letter or document would be examined on its own merit to determine its significance; the mere presence of the words “without prejudice” does not in itself automatically grant it special status.
In the second, cases may get dismissed with or without prejudice. In the latter case, again, it means that the case may still be pursued by anyone after this decision, that this judgment is not the final word. So if it is brought to trial again, neither party has an obligation to show that this case different from the first; the same claims can be made with the same set of evidence, as if the first trial didn’t take place at all.
If a case gets dismissed “with prejudice,” this means the opposite as one can imagine – that this is in fact the final decision, and the same case cannot be brought to court for another hearing under the same set of circumstances.
This can happen if the judge deems the lawsuit to have been initiated in bad faith, misrepresented or frivolously brought on. The judge is effectively saying, “no more.”