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Under the traditional system of Equity, the word 'estoppel' was used to describe a number of situations in which a person could be stopped ('estopped') from doing certain things. The term is not a precise one and, these days, is mostly used to describe what used to be called 'estoppel by deed' (where 'deed' has the sense of 'action', not a legal undertaking).
In general, the law may act to estop actions of the following form:
- one party, by word or action, gives another party to believe that a particular situation obtains, and
- the other party acts on that understanding, and
- that action leads to that party's detriment.