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An unexpected action, sudden confusion, or an unanticipated event.

As a ground for a new trial, surprise means the condition in which a party to a lawsuit is unexpectedly placed and that is detrimental to that party's case. The situation must be one that the party could not reasonably have anticipated and that could not be guarded against or prevented.

When a party is taken by surprise by the testimony of his or her own witness, the party may be permitted to discredit the witness by showing that the witness made prior contradictory or inconsistent statements.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

SURPRISE. This term is frequently used in courts of equity and by writers on equity jurisprudence. It signifies the act by which a party who is entering into a contract is taken unawares, by which sudden confusion or perplexity is created, which renders it proper that a court of equity should relieve the party so surprised. 2 Bro. Ch. R. 150; 1 Story, Eq. Jur. Sec. 120, note. Mr. Jeremy, Eq. Jur. 366, seems to think that the word surprise is a technical expression, and nearly synonymous. with fraud. Page 383, note. It is sometimes, used in this sense when it is deemed presumptive of, or approaching to fraud. 1 Fonb. Eq. 123 3 Chan. Cas. 56, 74, 103, 114. Vide 6 Ves. R. 327, 338; 2 Bro. Ch. R. 826; 16 Ves. R. 81, 86, 87; 1 Cox, R. 340; 2 Harr. Dig. 92.
     2. In practice, by surprise is understood that situation in which a party is placed, without any default of his own, which will be, injurious to his interest. 8 N. AS. 407. The courts always do everything in their power to relieve a party from the effects of a surprise, when he has been diligent in endeavouring to avoid it. 1 Clarke's R. 162; 3 Bouv. Inst. n. 3285.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
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