English Contract Act: Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. 1893

English Contract Act


This pivotal case examines whether advertising goods can be viewed as a clear agreement to pay under the English Contract Act. Here are the key points:

  • The case centers on the interpretation of advertisements.
  • It questions whether an advertisement can form a binding contract.
  • The discussion is grounded in the principles of the English Contract Act.


  • The Advertisement: The Carbolic Smoke Ball Company claimed that their product, the Smoke Ball, could prevent influenza. They promised $100 to anyone who used it as instructed but still got sick.
  • Claim: Louisa Carlill used the smoke ball following the instructions but contracted influenza. She claimed the $100 advertised by the company.
  • The Dispute: The company refused to pay the $100, leading Carlill to sue them.
  • Court’s Examination: The main question was whether the advertisement was a binding contract and whether Carlill needed to inform the company that she accepted their offer.
  • Court’s Decision: The court found that the company’s actions, such as depositing money in a bank, showed they intended to enter into a legal contract. The advertisement was a public offer, which Carlill accepted by using the smoke ball as directed.
  • Unilateral Offer: This case was a classic example of a unilateral offer, where the acceptance of the offer is implied by performing the conditions stated in the offer.
  • The Ruling: By meeting the conditions in the advertisement, Carlill had entered into a contract with the company. Therefore, the company was obligated to pay her the $100 as promised.
  • Legal Implications: The ruling emphasized that advertisements could create binding contracts if they demonstrated a clear intention to form legally enforceable agreements. This aligns with the principles under the Indian Contract Act 1872 regarding offers and acceptances.

Issues Involved

1. Binding Nature of the Contract

  • Was the contract between Mrs. Carlill and the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company legally enforceable?

2. Requirement of Communication

  • Did Mrs. Carlill need to inform the company that she accepted their offer for the contract to be valid?

Court’s Observations on Contractual Intentions and Acceptance

  • Intent to Form a Legal Contract: The court noted that the company’s action of depositing money into the bank demonstrated a serious intention to enter into a contract.
  • Advertisement as a Public Offer: The advertisement was directed to the general public. The plaintiff adhered to the specified instructions by the company, which amounts to her accepting the offer through her actions.
  • Implied Acceptance Through Performance: The court emphasized that completing the terms of the contract signifies acceptance. Therefore, explicit notification of acceptance isn’t necessary in this scenario.
  • Nature of the Offer: This was identified as a unilateral offer, which does not require acceptance when directed to the public at large. It stands as an open invitation that anyone can accept by meeting the conditions.
  • Specific Performance Conditions: Fulfilling the specific conditions, such as using the smoke ball three times over two weeks, equates to accepting the offer.
  • Consideration and Intent to Fulfill: The company’s deposit of funds further solidified the presence of valid consideration, affirming their commitment to fulfill the contractual obligations.


The appeal was not successful, and the judges ruled against it. Here are the key points of the decision:

  • Dismissal of Appeal: The judges dismissed the appeal.
  • Compensation: The court ordered the appellant to pay $100 in compensation to the plaintiff.
  • General Offer: The court recognized the advertisement as a general offer to the public.
  • Acceptance of Offer: Anyone who meets the conditions stated in the advertisement is deemed to have accepted the offer legally.


Proposals and Acceptance: Key Concepts from the Indian Contract Act 1872

Proposal (Section 2(a)): A proposal, or offer, occurs when one person shows their willingness to do something or refrains from doing something, aiming to get approval from another person. This act of proposing sets the stage for forming a contract.

Acceptance (Section 2(b)): Acceptance is when the person to whom the proposal was made agrees to it. Once agreed upon, the proposal is considered accepted, paving the way for a contract.

General Offer: Sometimes, an offer isn’t directed at a specific individual but to the public at large. This is known as a general offer. Anyone can accept this type of offer, but the contract is only formed with the individual who fulfills the conditions of the offer. Although the offer is open to everyone, the number of potential acceptances might be limited, either explicitly or implicitly.