Carlill v Carbolic [1892]

Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co [1893] 1 QB 256 is a landmark case in contract law that established the principle that an advertisement containing a promise conditional upon some form of performance can constitute an offer of a unilateral contract. The case involved the Carbolic Smoke Ball, a product advertised as a preventive measure against influenza and other diseases.

The Carbolic Smoke Ball Co placed an advertisement in the newspaper, claiming that they would pay £100 to anyone who used their smoke ball three times daily for two weeks and still contracted influenza or associated diseases. The advertisement also emphasised the company's sincerity by stating that £1000 had been deposited in the bank to demonstrate their commitment. Mrs Carlill purchased one of the smoke balls, followed the usage instructions, yet still caught influenza. She sued the company for the promised £100.

In the Court of Appeal, the key issues were whether a contract existed between Mrs Carlill and the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company and whether the conditions specified in the advertisement constituted a valid offer.

Lindley LJ, delivering the judgment, held that a unilateral contract had indeed been formed between Mrs Carlill and the company. He emphasised that the advertisement amounted to a specific offer made to the public, and anyone who performed the conditions specified therein would be considered to have accepted the offer. The deposit in the bank was seen as evidence of the company's sincerity, making the advertisement more than mere puffery.

Lindley LJ addressed the question of acceptance and noted that while the general rule is that acceptance must be notified, the person making the offer can expressly or impliedly indicate that no notice is required. In this case, the inconvenience of performing the conditions specified in the offer was deemed sufficient consideration.

This case highlights that courts take policy considerations into account when determining the existence of an offer and acceptance, particularly in cases involving consumer protection against misleading or spurious advertisements. This case is often cited as a precedent for its clear recognition of unilateral contracts formed through advertisements and has had a lasting impact on contract law principles.
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