Carlill V Carbolic Smoke Ball [1892] 2 Qb 484

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  • Topic: Invitation to treat, Advertising, Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company
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  • Published : February 13, 2011
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Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball [1892] 2 QB 484

The case of Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball is one of the most important cases in English legal history.

It was so confident of the usefulness of the carbolic smoke ball, and its ability not only to cure but also to prevent someone from getting the flu, that it advertised on the following basis: (Anyone who used the carbolic smoke ball in a particular way for a specified period of time, but who still caught influenza afterwards, would be entitled to claim £100 from the company).The advertisement went on to say that the company had gone so far as to deposit £1000 in the Alliance Bank in the event of any such claims. The plaintiff (who nowadays would be called the ‘claimant’) saw the advertisement and decided to buy one of the carbolic smoke balls. She used it exactly as advised, but still caught influenza. She took the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company to court in order to claim her £100. The court found in her favour, but the defendants appealed

About the decision of the court, the company argued that there was no legal contract to breach and the case eventually reached the Court of Appeal. Here, the Court found that the advertisement contained: “a distinct promise expressed in language which is perfectly unmistakeable” and that the company having deposited £1000 as a sign of good faith meant that the wording of the advert could not be “mere puff” or advertiser's patter. Furthermore, the court ruled that an advertisement could indeed be more than a simple invitation to treat and the wording of the advert made it clear that it was indeed making an offer open to the whole world. The Court then went on to rule that by purchasing the product and using it in the prescribed manner, Mrs Carlill had accepted the terms of the offer, and a contract between her and the company was formed.

The fact that she had not advised the company of her acceptance of their offer did not change the facts of the case....
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