Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Co.

Citation. 1 Q.B. 256 (Court of Appeal 1893)

Brief Fact Summary.

The Plaintiff, believing Defendant’s advertisement that its product would prevent influenza, bought a Carbolic Smoke Ball and used it as directed from November 20, 1891 until January 17, 1892, when she caught the flu.  Plaintiff brought suit to recover the 100£, which the Court found her entitled to recover.  Defendant appealed.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. This case considers whether an advertising gimmick (i.e. the promise to pay 100£ to anyone contracting influenza while using the Carbolic Smoke Ball) can be considered an express contractual promise to pay.

Facts.

The Defendant, the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company of London (Defendant), placed an advertisement in several newspapers on November 13, 1891, stating that its product, “The Carbolic Smoke Ball”, when used three times daily, for two weeks, would prevent colds and influenza.  The makers of the smoke ball additionally offered a 100£ reward to anyone who caught influenza using their product, guaranteeing this reward by stating in their advertisement that they had deposited 1000£ in the bank as a show of their sincerity.  The Plaintiff, Lilli Carlill (Plaintiff), bought a smoke ball and used it as directed.  Several weeks after she began using the smoke ball, Plaintiff caught the flu.

Issue.

Lindley, L.J., on behalf of the Court of Appeals, notes that the main issue at hand is whether the language in Defendant’s advertisement, regarding the 100£ reward was meant to be an express promise or, rather, a sales puff, which had no meaning whatsoever.

Held.    

Defendant’s Appeal was dismissed, Plaintiff was entitled to recover 100£.
•    The Court acknowledges that in the case of vague advertisements, language regarding payment of a reward is generally a puff, which carries no enforceability.  In this case, however, Defendant noted the deposit of £1000 in their advertisement, as a show of their sincerity.  Because Defendant did this, the Court found their offer to reward to be a promise, backed by their own sincerity.

Concurrence. In the concurrences of Bowen L.J. and A.L. Smith, L.J., the notion of contractual consideration also becomes an issue of relevance.  Both of these Judges note that while the Defendant could argue lack of consideration, Plaintiff, in buying the Carbolic Smoke Ball and using it as directed, provided adequate consideration through the inconvenience she experienced by using the product.

Discussion.

This case stands for the proposition that while sales puffery in advertisements is generally not intended to create a contract with potential product buyers, in this case it did because the Defendant elevated their language to the level of a promise, by relying on their own sincerity.

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