Title – CARLILL VS CARBOLIC SMOKE BALL CO
Equivalent Citation –  EWCA Civil 1,  1 QB 256
Bench – Lindley LJ, Bowen LJ, and Smith LJ
Date of judgment – 8th December 1892
CARLILL VS CARBOLIC SMOKE BALL CO (CASE SUMMARY)
Whether a General Offer made by the company is binding on it?
The Defendant, the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company of London, on 13th November 1891, advertised in several newspapers stating that its product ‘The Carbolic Smoke Ball’ when used three times a day for two weeks would protect the person from cold and influenza.
The company offered by advertisement to pay 100 pounds to anyone “who contracts the increasing epidemic influenza, colds or any disease caused by cold, after having used the ball according to printed directions”. It was added that 1000 pounds had been deposited with the Alliance Bank to show their sincerity in the matter. The plaintiff (Lilli Carlill) used the smoke balls according to the directions stipulated from 20th November 1891 to 17th January 1892, but she still suffered from influenza. Consequently, she brought a suit to recover 100 pounds from the defendant.
ISSUES RAISED –
Whether the defendant’s advertisement regarding the 100 pounds reward was an express promise or was it a sales puff without any meaning whatsoever?
It was contended by the defendants that there was no intention to enter into legal relations as it was a puffing advertisement. It was also contended that the offer was not made to any single person and that the plaintiff had not communicated her intention to accept the same. It was also contended that the terms of the contract were too vague as it did not mention anything related to time as a person could claim for remedy even if they contracted flu after 10 years of using the product.
The plaintiff contended that the ad was an offer as it was published and once acted upon led to an obligation between the parties hence it was enforceable. Due to which the contract was not vague and had a consideration.
The plaintiff was entitled to recover 100 pounds. The court noted that in the case of vague advertisements the language regarding payment of a reward is generally a puff, that carries no enforceability. In this case, since the defendant had deposited 1000 pounds in the Alliance Bank showed their sincerity towards the promise. Based on this the Court concluded that the defendant was liable and dismissed the appeal.
JUDGE’S VIEWS –
LINDLEY LJ –
He held that the ad was an express promise as it mentioned the guidelines of usage of the product. It was not a puff as 1000 pounds was deposited in the bank which showed their commitment. The promise was binding on the defendant as it resembled a unilateral offer. The ad is not vague as the terms could be reasonably constructed. An express notice of acceptance is not required as the performance of the contract amounted to acceptance. The consideration existed in two ways firstly, the defendants received benefits through the advertising. Secondly, the performance of the specified conditions constitutes consideration of promise as a person could contract the virus even after taking due measures. Resulting in inconvenience to that person.
BROWN LJ AND SMITH LJ –
Contract was not vague as and was re-enforceable. It was not a puff due to the deposit of 1000 pounds in the bank. An offer could be made to the world and will come into effect when a person comes forward and performs it. There is no need for notification of acceptance. They concurred with Justice Lindley in the matter of consideration.
PRINCIPLE LAID DOWN –
In unilateral contracts communication of acceptance is not required. If an offer is made to the world then to provide the notification of acceptance as a mere performance of the conditions stipulated will amount for acceptance.
The discussed case law made general offers made by a company to the world at the large binding on the company.
- Avtar Singh – Contract and Specific Relief, Eastern Book Company, Printed by Media Network, 12th edition, (Reprint 2019).
This blog is written by Kushal, KLE Society’s Law College.
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