Please contact customerservices lexology. The UK legal system is one that is based on precedence and case law. Over the course of hundreds of years, the courts have made decisions that impact how the law works today and how it will evolve in the future. There are countless landmark decisions that have impacted the legal landscape in the UK and we have outlined just a few below:. Does a contract have to be a bilateral agreement to be legally binding?
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Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company  EWCA Civ 1 is an English contract law decision by the Court of Appeal , which held an advertisement containing certain terms to get a reward constituted a binding unilateral offer that could be accepted by anyone who performed its terms. It is notable for its curious subject matter and how the influential judges particularly Lindley LJ and Bowen LJ developed the law in inventive ways.
Carlill is frequently discussed as an introductory contract case, and may often be the first legal case a law student studies in the law of contract. The case concerned a flu remedy called the "carbolic smoke ball".
The company was found to have been bound by its advertisement, which was construed as an offer which the buyer, by using the smoke ball, accepted, creating a contract. The Court of Appeal held the essential elements of a contract were all present, including offer and acceptance , consideration and an intention to create legal relations. The Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. The — flu pandemic was estimated to have killed 1 million people.
The smoke ball was a rubber ball with a tube attached. It was filled with carbolic acid or phenol. The tube would be inserted into a user's nose and squeezed at the bottom to release the vapours. The nose would run, ostensibly flushing out viral infections. During the last epidemic of influenza many thousand carbolic smoke balls were sold as preventives against this disease, and in no ascertained case was the disease contracted by those using the carbolic smoke ball.
One carbolic smoke ball will last a family several months, making it the cheapest remedy in the world at the price, 10s. The ball can be refilled at a cost of 5s. Louisa Elizabeth Carlill saw the advertisement, bought one of the balls and used it three times daily for nearly two months until she contracted the flu on 17 January They ignored two letters from her husband, a solicitor. On a third request for her reward, they replied with an anonymous letter that if it is used properly the company had complete confidence in the smoke ball's efficacy, but "to protect themselves against all fraudulent claims", they would need her to come to their office to use the ball each day and be checked by the secretary.
Carlill brought a claim to court. The barristers representing her argued that the advertisement and her reliance on it was a contract between the company and her, so the company ought to pay. The company argued it was not a serious contract. Asquith , lost its argument at the Queen's Bench. It appealed straight away. The judgments of the court were as follows.
Lindley LJ gave the first judgment on it, after running through the facts again. He makes short shrift of the insurance and wagering contract arguments that were dealt with in the Queen's Bench. I will begin by referring to two points which were raised in the Court below.
I refer to them simply for the purpose of dismissing them. First, it is said no action will lie upon this contract because it is a policy. You have only to look at the advertisement to dismiss that suggestion. Then it was said that it is a bet. Hawkins, J. I so entirely agree with him that I pass over this contention also as not worth serious attention. Then, what is left? The first observation I will make is that we are not dealing with any inference of fact.
He follows on with essentially five points. Fourth, that the vagueness of the advertisement's terms was no insurmountable obstacle. And fifth, the nature of Mrs. Carlill's consideration what she gave in return for the offer was good, because there is both an advantage in additional sales in reaction to the advertisement and a "distinct inconvenience" that people go to when using a smoke ball.
We must first consider whether this was intended to be a promise at all, or whether it was a mere puff which meant nothing. Was it a mere puff? I say this for the purpose of giving point to the observation that we are not inferring a promise; there is the promise, as plain as words can make it. Then it is contended that it is not binding. In the first place, it is said that it is not made with anybody in particular.
Now that point is common to the words of this advertisement and to the words of all other advertisements offering rewards. They are offers to anybody who performs the conditions named in the advertisement, and anybody who does perform the condition accepts the offer. That rests upon a string of authorities, the earliest of which is Williams v Carwardine ,  which has been followed by many other decisions upon advertisements offering rewards.
But is that so in cases of this kind? I apprehend that they are an exception to that rule, or, if not an exception, they are open to the observation that the notification of the acceptance need not precede the performance. This offer is a continuing offer. If he gets notice of the acceptance before his offer is revoked, that in principle is all you want. I, however, think that the true view, in a case of this kind, is that the person who makes the offer shews by his language and from the nature of the transaction that he does not expect and does not require notice of the acceptance apart from notice of the performance.
We, therefore, find here all the elements which are necessary to form a binding contract enforceable in point of law, subject to two observations.
It is said, When are they to be used? According to the language of the advertisement no time is fixed, and, construing the offer most strongly against the person who has made it, one might infer that any time was meant. I do not think that was meant, and to hold the contrary would be pushing too far the doctrine of taking language most strongly against the person using it.
I do not think that business people or reasonable people would understand the words as meaning that if you took a smoke ball and used it three times daily for two weeks you were to be guaranteed against influenza for the rest of your life, and I think it would be pushing the language of the advertisement too far to construe it as meaning that.
But if it does not mean that, what does it mean? It is for the defendants to shew what it does mean; and it strikes me that there are two, and possibly three, reasonable constructions to be put on this advertisement, any one of which will answer the purpose of the plaintiff. That is one suggestion; but it does not commend itself to me. Another suggested meaning is that you are warranted free from catching this epidemic, or colds or other diseases caused by taking cold, whilst you are using this remedy after using it for two weeks.
If that is the meaning, the plaintiff is right, for she used the remedy for two weeks and went on using it till she got the epidemic. Another meaning, and the one which I rather prefer, is that the reward is offered to any person who contracts the epidemic or other disease within a reasonable time after having used the smoke ball.
Then it is asked, What is a reasonable time? It has been suggested that there is no standard of reasonableness; that it depends upon the reasonable time for a germ to develop! I do not feel pressed by that. It strikes me that a reasonable time may be ascertained in a business sense and in a sense satisfactory to a lawyer , in this way; find out from a chemist what the ingredients are; find out from a skilled physician how long the effect of such ingredients on the system could be reasonably expected to endure so as to protect a person from an epidemic or cold, and in that way you will get a standard to be laid before a jury , or a judge without a jury, by which they might exercise their judgment as to what a reasonable time would be.
It has been argued that this is nudum pactum - that there is no consideration. We must apply to that argument the usual legal tests. Let us see whether there is no advantage to the defendants. It is said that the use of the ball is no advantage to them, and that what benefits them is the sale; and the case is put that a lot of these balls might be stolen, and that it would be no advantage to the defendants if the thief or other people used them.
The answer to that, I think, is as follows. It is quite obvious that in the view of the advertisers a use by the public of their remedy, if they can only get the public to have confidence enough to use it, will react and produce a sale which is directly beneficial to them.
Therefore, the advertisers get out of the use an advantage which is enough to constitute a consideration. But there is another view. Does not the person who acts upon this advertisement and accepts the offer put himself to some inconvenience at the request of the defendants?
Is it nothing to use this ball three times daily for two weeks according to the directions at the request of the advertiser? Is that to go for nothing? It appears to me that there is a distinct inconvenience, not to say a detriment, to any person who so uses the smoke ball.
I am of opinion, therefore, that there is ample consideration for the promise. We were pressed upon this point with the case of Gerhard v Bates ,  which was the case of a promoter of companies who had promised the bearers of share warrants that they should have dividends for so many years, and the promise as alleged was held not to shew any consideration. Lord Campbell 's judgment when you come to examine it is open to the explanation, that the real point in that case was that the promise, if any, was to the original bearer and not to the plaintiff, and that as the plaintiff was not suing in the name of the original bearer there was no contract with him.
Then Lord Campbell goes on to enforce that view by shewing that there was no consideration shewn for the promise to him. But in the present case, for the reasons I have given, I cannot see the slightest difficulty in coming to the conclusion that there is consideration.
It appears to me, therefore, that the defendants must perform their promise, and, if they have been so unwary as to expose themselves to a great many actions, so much the worse for them. Bowen LJ 's opinion was more tightly structured in style and is frequently cited. Five main steps in his reasoning can be identified.
First, he says that the contract was not too vague to be enforced, because it could be interpreted according to what ordinary people would understand by it. He differed slightly from Lindley LJ on what time period one could contract flu and still have a claim Lindley LJ said a "reasonable time" after use, while Bowen LJ said "while the smoke ball is used" , but this was not a crucial point, because the fact was that Mrs.
Carlill got flu while using the smoke ball. Third, he said that although an offer was made to the whole world, the contract was not with the whole world. Therefore, it was not an absurd basis for a contract, because only the people who used it would bind the company. Fourth, he says that communication is not necessary to accept the terms of an offer; conduct is and should be sufficient.
Fifth, good consideration was clearly given by Mrs. Carlill because she went to the "inconvenience" of using it, and the company got the benefit of extra sales.
I am of the same opinion. We were asked by the council for the defendants to say that this document was a contract too vague to be enforced. The first observation which arises is that the document itself is not a contract at all, it is only an offer made to the public. The defendants contend next, that it is an offer the terms of which are too vague to be treated as a definite offer, inasmuch as there is no limit of time fixed for the catching of the influenza, and it cannot be supposed that the advertisers seriously meant to promise to pay money to every person who catches the influenza at any time after the inhaling of the smoke ball.
Four landmark cases that changed the legal landscape in the UK
The Carbolic Smoke Ball Company made a product called the "smoke ball" which claimed to be a cure for influenza and a number of other diseases. John saw the advertisement, bought one of the balls and used it three times daily for nearly two months until she contracted the flu on 17 January They ignored two letters from her husband, a solicitor. On a third request for her reward, they replied with an anonymous letter that if it is used properly company had complete confidence in the smoke ball's efficacy, but "to protect themselves against all fraudulent claims" they would need her to come to their office to use the ball each day and be checked by the secretary. John brought a claim to court. The barristers representing her argued that the advertisement and her reliance on it was a contract between her and the company, and so they ought to pay.
Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co.