Irreparable harm refers to a harm that cannot be rectified by money. It is a legal term used in court to justify the granting of a preliminary or permanent injunction. Injunctions are equitable remedies that prevent a person from doing a certain action because the action would be so harmful that the damaged party could not be repaired.
People within most legal systems have a duty to one another not to cause harm either negligently or intentionally. Most commonly, when that duty is breached, the party damaged by the breach sues the other individual in a civil action. If the plaintiff who is suing can prove that he suffered damages as a result of the defendant's breach, the defendant is ordered to pay monetary restitution to make the plaintiff whole again.
The monetary restitution damages awarded in most civil lawsuits are usually sufficient to rectify the harm. For example, if a plaintiff sues a defendant for damaging his lawn mower, the defendant can be ordered to pay for the repair of the mower or for a new mower. The plaintiff can then buy a new lawn mower and is in the same position he was in before the damage occurred.
There are certain situations, however, where monetary damages would not be sufficient to make a plaintiff whole. In these situations, the plaintiff would seek a temporary or permanent injunction to stop the defendant from doing whatever it was he was trying to do. The court will grant the injunction only if the plaintiff shows that irreparable harm would result from the actions.
There are many examples of situations in which an injunction may be appropriate on the basis of irreparable harm. For example, if a plaintiff has a large, old tree on his property and the defendant is threatening to cut down the tree, the plaintiff may seek an injunction from the court to stop the defendant from cutting down the tree. The plaintiff can show irreparable harm because the defendant can't simply buy another 100-year-old tree to plant, and as such monetary damages would not be sufficient to compensate the plaintiff for the harm he incurred.
If a defendant was threatening to release the secret formula for a popular product, such as Coca Cola, the judge would likely also grant an injunction to prevent him from doing so. The release of the formula would be considered irreparable harm because the loss from the release of the formula could never be calculated accurately nor paid by one person. Instead, an injunction would be the best way to rectify the situation and protect the plaintiff's legal interests.