Landmark Case: Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Company

Please find below a factual summary of a case we recently covered in class. When we covered the case you did not yet know anything about what constituted a contract, what constituted a breach, or what sort of damages might be available for a breach of a contract.

Now that we have discussed all that, I want you to brief the case with all those things in mind. In other words, you should explain what the court concluded, what award, if any, they offered the plaintiff and, based on what you know about modern day damages law, what might have happened if a modern day court heard this sort of case. Remember, this is a BRIEF, but it is a brief with a twist in that I am asking you to look over the decision, discuss how it might or might not have changed prevalent contract law of that time, and how you think it might be perceived today given what we have discussed and read in the text. So, start out with the standard elements of a brief (see below for a refresher) and then finish with an added paragraph or two about how differently things would be today – you can call that “Contemporary Analysis”.

Below is the fact pattern, followed by a link to the actual decision as issued by the court, and another link that will remind you how to properly brief a case:

Landmark Case: Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Company

1 QB 256

Court of Appeal, 1892

Facts: In the early 1890s, English citizens greatly feared the Russian flu. The Carbolic Smoke Ball Company ran a newspaper ad that contained two key passages:

“£100 reward will be paid by the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company to any person who contracts the influenza after having used the ball three times daily for two weeks according to the printed directions supplied with each ball.

“£1000 is deposited with the Alliance Bank, shewing our sincerity in the matter.”

The product was a ball that contained carbolic acid. Users would inhale vapors from the ball through a long tube.

Carlill purchased a smoke ball and used it as directed for two months. She then caught the flu. She sued, arguing that because her response to the ad had created a contract with the company, she was entitled to £100.

The trial court agreed, awarding Carlill the money. The company appealed.

Here is the appellate decision:

And here is the link for briefing a case:

If you have any questions, feel free to ask!

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