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

Contract Law – Offer and Acceptance

Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co [1893] 1 QB 256 is a key case within the contract law degree module for the Bachelor of Laws LLB programme at university. The case concerns offer vs invitation to treat for the formation of a contract.


In this case the defendant Carbolic Smoke Ball Company advertised that anybody who bought their product but still contracted the flu would be able to claim a £100 reward. The company had set aside money in a bank account for this purpose. Carlill, who was the claimant, purchased the product from the company but still contracted the flu. Carlill then attempted to claim the reward money.

The defendants argued that the advert was an invitation to treat, not an offer, and so they could not be bound by the promise of reward. The defendant stated the reward was a ‘mere puff’ meaning a sales puff that does not indicate any intention. Furthermore, they argued that the advertisement was not precise and did not show intent to be bound.


Was the advertisement an offer or invitation to treat?


The court decided in favour of the claimant Carlill. The advert amounted to a unilateral offer, which is an offer that can be fulfilled by completing the laid-out conditions. Carlill completed these conditions by accepting the offer and using the smoke ball for the advertised amount of time. Furthermore, the court explained there was sufficient intent demonstrated because the company had set aside money, intending to pay any successful claimant. Consideration also passed between parties in the form of money from Carlill, and the smoke balls from the defendant.

OSCOLA reference this article/case: LawLessons, ‘Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co [1893] 1 QB 256’ (LawLessons, 6th January 2021) <> accessed 8th July 2022

Published inOffer and Acceptance
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