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Enforcing a Broken Promise (The Doctrine of Promissory Estoppel)

The doctrine of promissory estoppel allows a party to enforce a promise even though that promise is not supported by considerationCrouse v. Cyclops Industries, 560 Pa. 394, 402, 745 A.2d 606, 610 (2000). To establish promissory estoppel, the plaintiff must prove that: (1) the promisor made a promise that would reasonably be expected to induce action or forbearance on the part of the promisee; (2) the promisee actually took action or refrained from taking action in reliance on the promise; and (3) injustice can be avoided by enforcing the promise. Id. at 403, 745 A.2d at 610 (emphasis added).

Unlike equitable estoppel, which is wholly a defensive doctrine, promissory estoppel can sustain an action brought to remedy the injustice that results from a promise not kept. Detrimental reliance is another name for promissory estoppel. Rinehimer v. Luzerne County Community College, 372 Pa. Superior Ct. 480, 539 A.2d 1298 (1988). Promissory estoppel is an outgrowth of equitable estoppel but, unlike equitable estoppel, promissory estoppel may serve as an independent cause of action. Paul v. Lankenau Hospital, 375 Pa. Superior Ct. 1, 543 A.2d 1148 (1988). Pennsylvania has long recognized promissory estoppel as a vehicle by which a promise may be enforced in order to remedy an injustice. See Fried v. Fisher, 328 Pa. 497, 196 A. 39 (1938).

Recovery on the theory of promissory estoppel, is ordinarily limited to recovery of amounts lost and expended in reliance on the promise, in order to place the plaintiff in the position he would have occupied had the promise never been madeBanas v. Matthews Int’l Corp., 348 Pa.Super. 464, 486 n. 12, 502 A.2d 637, 648 n. 12 (1985); see also, Restatement (Second) of Contracts S § 90(1) (remedy under promissory estoppel may be “limited as justice requires”).