Case Analysis on Carlill V. Carbolic Smokeball Company

Topics: Contract, Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company, Invitation to treat Pages: 8 (2768 words) Published: August 22, 2013

Case: Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Company [1893] 1 QB 256


Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Company Ltd is one of the most leading cases in the law of contracts under common law. Known for both its academic importance and its contribution in the development of the laws relating unilateral contracts, it is still binding on lower courts in England and Wales, and is still cited by judges in their judgements. This research paper aims to critically examine and analyze the facts and the judgement of the case, along with the issues raised in the case and the impact of this case in general. To understand the case better, firstly let us look at the law as it stood before the case.

The law as it stood before the case:

A number of important issues were determined in this case, which still remains as an authority in a number of aspects. Before the judgement in Carlill v. Carbolic smoke ball company, the laws relating to rewards announced in advertisements (General offers), acceptance and communication of acceptance, and consideration were as follows: General offers: It was already established in the 1833 case of Williams v. Carwardine that an advertisement amounted to a general promise or contract to pay the offered reward to any person who performed the conditions mentioned in it. Though not entirely binding, this decision was very much relied on in this case, as we will see in the judgement of the court regarding this issue. Acceptance and communication of acceptance in cases of this kind: The law relating to communication of acceptance was somewhat stated by Lord Blackburn in the case of Brogden v. Metropolitan Railway Company when he observed “If notice of acceptance is required, the person who makes the offer gets the notice of acceptance contemporaneously with his notice of the performance of the condition. If he gets notice of the acceptance before his offer is revoked, that in principle is what you want.” , but the case in which he stated the following lines were essentially different with regards to facts, so there was no definitive clarity on this matter till Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball company was determined. Consideration: There was no authoritative judgement regarding consideration in such a circumstance before the judgement in Carlill case. Though the defendants cited Lord Campbell’s judgement in the case of Gerhard v. Bates in which he held that there was no consideration involved between two parties as a secondary justification to the judgement given by him, the court in this case held that the facts in Gerhard v. Bates were different in nature and consideration was not the main question raised in that case, thus refusing to accept the argument of the defendants.

Facts of the case:

The Carbolic Smoke Ball Company, an English firm, came out with a product called the ‘smoke ball’, which it claimed to be a cure for influenza and a number of other diseases, during a period when flu pandemic was claiming a lot of lives. The company came out with advertisements to their product and published it in the Pall Mall Gazette and other newspapers on November 13, 1891. The advertisement contained, among other things, the following: “ 100 pounds reward will be paid by the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company to any person who contracts the increasing epidemic influenza colds, or any disease caused by taking cold, after having used the ball three times daily for two weeks, according to the printed directions supplied with each ball. 1000 pounds is deposited with the Alliance Bank, Regent Street, showing our sincerity in the matter. During the last epidemic of Influenza many thousand carbolic smoke balls were sold as preventives against the disease, and in no ascertained case was the disease contracted by those using the carbolic smoke ball.” In late 1891, Mrs Louisa Carlill saw the advertisement, bought one of the balls and used it according to the instructions, three times daily for a period...
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