Case Analysis |Carlill Vs Carbolic Smoke Ball Factory (1983)


CITATION: [1892] EWCA Civ 1

BENCH: lindley LJ, A L Smith and Brown LJ


Carlill vs. Carbolic the Smoke Ball case addressed whether an advertising company gimmick can be considered an express contractual promise to pay. Because the contract was made unilaterally, acceptance can be made without formal communication.


One of the defining decisions in English contract law is the Carlil v. carbolic smoke ball case, which was decided in the UK’s Court of appeal in 1983. Judges in this case included Lindley LJ, AL Smith, and LJ Brown.

The Carbolic Smoke Company created the smoke ball, a new product to treat influenza, and advertised it in the Pall Mall Gazette and other newspapers with the promise of a 100-pound reward for anyone who contracted the illness despite using the recommended treatment (using the ball for two weeks daily, three times per day). Within the context of the influenza pandemic of 1889–1890, this advertisement is for a new smoke ball product to treat influenza. They have deposited £1000 in the Alliance Bank on Regan Street, as claimed in their advertisement.

Mrs Louisa Elizabeth Carlill became interested in the product after viewing the advertisement, and she used it from about the middle of November 1891 to the beginning of January 1892. Unfortunately, the smoke ball treatment didn’t help her, and eventually, influenza struck. Carlill’s husband then sent a letter to the manufacturer of carbolic smoke balls to request compensation.

The company initially disregarded it, but after receiving two letters stating that there wouldn’t be a problem unless the secretary and the course were used correctly and checked, they finally responded.

They claimed that it wasn’t a contract between them and was merely an offer. Carlil filed a lawsuit against the company after receiving their response, claiming that they had broken their promise as stated in the advertisement.


The main issue that arises in the Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball case is whether the smoke ball company’s advertisement regarding a 100-pound offer qualifies as a general offer. Does Mrs Carlil have any records of communicating her acceptance to the business?


The Court of Appeal unanimously rejected the company’s arguments and determined that Mrs. Carlill and the company had a legally binding contract for $100. The three judges cited a number of reasons, including the fact that the advertisement was a restricted offer only to those who acted on its terms rather than a unilateral offer to the entire world.

Acceptance of the offer meant that the conditions for using the smoke ball had been met.


The offer was accepted by Mrs. Carlill by carrying out the prescribed use specified on the package, and a contract was established between the business and Mrs. Carlill as a result.

A legitimate general offer was made to the general public. The company deposited a certain amount of pounds as proof in the bank, proving that the smoke ball was more than just a sale of puff. The language was clear enough to be put into practice.

The offeror may forego notification even though the rule of communication of acceptance is required. It is assumed that the offeree did not have to express a desire to accept. Instead, he or she has shown that they are willing to fulfil their end of the bargain.





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