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Decoding Judgements: Unravelling the Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co Controversy

9 June 2023 | CaseSnappy Team

A advert in The London Illustrated News for the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company.


Welcome back to the "Decoding Judgements" series! Our mission is to simplify complex English law cases through structured summaries using CaseSnappy. In this instalment, we dissect the famous case of Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company [1893] 1 QB 256, which fundamentally shaped the principles of contract law by defining the concept of a unilateral contract.

A Bold Claim by the Carbolic Smoke Ball: Facts of the Case

Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company revolves around a dispute concerning the product known as the Carbolic Smoke Ball. The company advertised that the product could cure various ailments, and boldly claimed that they would pay £100 to anyone who contracted an illness after using the product as per the instructions. Mrs. Carlill, the claimant, sued the company after using the product and subsequently contracting the flu, arguing that the advertisement constituted a binding contract.

The Legality of the Advertisement: Issues in the Case

The primary issue in the case was whether the advertisement was a legally binding contract. The company insisted that the advertisement was not a contract, as it was too vague and there was no intention to create legal relations. Mrs. Carlill, on the other hand, argued that the advertisement was a valid offer that she had accepted through her actions of purchasing and using the product.

A Unilateral Contract Established: The Decision

The court held that the advertisement did indeed constitute a unilateral contract, which was triggered by performance. As such, they upheld Mrs. Carlill's claim. The court determined that the advertisement contained a specific offer that anyone who used the product as instructed and fell ill could accept. Additionally, the court found that there was sufficient consideration to support the contract, as the use of the product constituted the detriment required.

In the words of Bowen LJ, "Was it intended that the £100 should, if the conditions were fulfilled, be paid? The advertisement says that £1000 is lodged at the bank for the purpose. Therefore, it cannot be said that the statement that £100 would be paid was intended to be a mere puff. I think it was intended to be understood by the public as an offer which was to be acted upon." Furthermore, Bowen LJ declared that "if this is an offer to be bound, then it is a contract the moment the person fulfils the condition."

CaseSnappy: Empowering Law Enthusiasts

Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company serves as a cornerstone case in understanding the principles of contract law, particularly the concept of unilateral contracts. CaseSnappy breaks down these pivotal cases into easily digestible summaries, ensuring that law students, lawyers, and those interested in legal matters have the essential information right at their fingertips.

Ready to delve further into the world of English law? Sign up for CaseSnappy for free and generate summaries of the most important legal cases in an instant. Stay tuned for the next installment of our "Decoding Judgements" series, and remember: conquer the law, one case at a time.

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