Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co – 1893

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Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co [1893] 1 QB 256

Emphasised the significance of offer and acceptance in contract law; distinguishes between offers and invitations to treat.


The defendant, the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company, placed an advertisement in a newspaper for their products, stating that any person who purchased and used their product but still contracted influenza despite properly following the instructions would be entitled to a £100 reward. The advert further stated that the company had demonstrated its sincerity by placing £1000 in a bank account to act as the reward. The claimant, Mrs Carlill, thus purchased some smoke balls and, despite proper use, contracted influenza and attempted to claim the £100 reward from the defendants. The defendants contended that they could not be bound by the advert as it was an invitation to treat rather than an offer on the grounds that the advert was: mere ‘puff’ and lacking true intent; that an offer could not be made ‘to the world’; the claimant had not technically provided acceptance; the wording of the advert was insufficiently precise; and, that there was no consideration, as necessary for the creation of a binding contract in law.


Whether the advert in question constituted an offer or an invitation to treat.


The Court of Appeal found for the claimant, determining that the advert amounted to the offer for a unilateral contract by the defendants. In completing the conditions stipulated by the advert, Mrs Carlill provided acceptance. The Court further found that: the advert’s own claim to sincerity negated the company’s assertion of lacking intent; an offer could indeed be made to the world; wording need only be reasonably clear to imply terms rather than entirely clear; and consideration was identifiable in the use of the balls.

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