More Promises to Keep: The Expansion of Contractual Liability Since 1921


  • Shannon K. O'Byrne



As part of the Alberta Law Review's Special Edition celebrating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the opening of the Law School in 1921, this article endeavours to trace aspects of the expansion of the enforceability of promises from 1921 to 1996. To provide a general context for subsequent analysis, the author begins by outlining the two main theories underlying contractual liability: consideration-based liability and reliance-based liability. The author goes on to discuss how the grounds for enforcing a promise have now expressly gone beyond the structures of a consideration-based liability to include, in addition, a more fact sensitive approach which looks to reasonable reliance by the promisee as a valid reason to enforce a promise. This contention is illustrated through a discussion of two relatively recent phenomena: the judicial reentrenchment of the doctrine of promissory estoppel and the extension of contractual protection to third party beneficiaries. The author concludes by offering some conclusions as to the extent to which the doctrine of consideration has been eroded.