Legal Memorandum: Damages for Promissory Estoppel Claims

Issue: Under Wisconsin law, what damages or relief are available under claim for promissory estoppel?

Area of Law: Business Organizations & Contracts
Keywords: Promissory estoppel; Damages; Specific performance
Jurisdiction: Wisconsin
Cited Cases: None
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 03/01/2015

In a promissory estoppel case, the court in its discretion can award either detrimental reliance damages or expectation damages (including specific performance), whichever it determines better avoids injustice.  Tynan v. JBVBB LLC, 2007 Wis. App. 265, ¶ 15 (court may award expectation damages (specific performance) or detrimental reliance damages depending on “which method best fits the equities of a given case”).  Generally, the stronger the evidence is of a definite promise, the more likely the court will award expectancy damages or order specific performance of the promise.  Id. (“The clearer the promise, the fairer it seems to me it is to hold the promisor to the promise and enforce the expectations of the promisee.”)  On the other hand, if the evidence shows a more vague promise, one that is less clear or definite, detrimental reliance damages are more likely.  Id.

But even to recover reliance damages, the plaintiff must show that by relying on the defendants’ promise he or she passed up other opportunities for contracts or employment that would have put him in a better position and earned a better amount.  Id.  If plaintiff cannot show that there were other and better opportunities he cannot recover:

If Mr. Tynan could show to a reasonable degree of certainty that he would have pursued some particular other employment and have been better for it, then JBVBB should pay him the difference, as a consequence of having made the promises on which Mr. Tynan relied. However, if […]

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