The Impossibility Doctrine in Commercial Contracts: An Empirical Analysis

26 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2019 Last revised: 14 Jun 2019

Date Written: January 13, 2019


The impossibility doctrine – under which a contracting party has no duty to perform the agreement if performance thereof is rendered impossible – is a basic building block of U.S. contract law. The prevailing law-and-economics analysis of this doctrine suggests that when contract performance becomes impossible, courts should assign the contractual risk of non-performance to the superior risk bearer, i.e., to the party that can bear said risk at least cost.

This Article empirically tests, for the first time, the economic theory of the impossibility doctrine. It first hypothesizes that most sophisticated parties to commercial contracts are unlikely to adopt the economic superior risk bearer model given its high implementation costs and its uncertain results. It then aims to expose the actual preference of real-world contract parties for the economic model. By examining 1,926 commercial contracts that were disclosed to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), this Article finds that most parties prefer not to adopt the economic model. This finding casts considerable doubt over the efficiency of this model for the parties.

Keywords: Impossibility, Contracts, Superior Risk Bearer, Empirical Legal Studies

JEL Classification: K12

Suggested Citation

Benoliel, Uri, The Impossibility Doctrine in Commercial Contracts: An Empirical Analysis (January 13, 2019). Brooklyn Law Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: or

Uri Benoliel (Contact Author)

College of Law & Business ( email )

Ramat Gan, 94720-7200

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics

Under construction: SSRN citations will be offline until July when we will launch a brand new and improved citations service, check here for more details.

For more information