Rescuing Reliance: The Perils of Promissory Estoppel

Posted: 13 Sep 1999

See all articles by Charles L. Knapp

Charles L. Knapp

University of California Hastings College of the Law


This article examines the past, present and future of promissory estoppel. After surveying the development of the doctrine over the last century, Professor Knapp describes and responds to some contemporary commentary on the subject. He argues that while most of the recent authors have been generally friendly to promissory estoppel, the thrust of recent criticism has been to reduce the role that the theory can or should play in contract law. The article then examines why courts sometimes apply promissory estoppel where reliance seems to be absent, and other times deny reliance-based recovery even though reliance is demonstrably present. Finally, Professor Knapp turns his attention to the question of why we need promissory estoppel. Examining a series of hypothetical cases involving various contract doctrines, he concludes that promissory estoppel and the general notion of reliance protection have played and should continue to play a major role in helping courts to reach just and equitable results in contract disputes.

Suggested Citation

Knapp, Charles Lincoln, Rescuing Reliance: The Perils of Promissory Estoppel. Hastings Law Journal, Vol. 49, No. 5/6, July/August 1998 [Published: Spring 1999]. Available at SSRN:

Charles Lincoln Knapp (Contact Author)

University of California Hastings College of the Law ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States
415-565-4668 (Phone)
415-565-4865 (Fax)

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