I was contacted by this phone company, who are trying to sell their service to me. They say that if I purchase a $19.95 credit on their phone plan, then I can get some discounts; also the $19.95 will be applied to my account, expiring in six months -- and I will not get billed until I use it up. However, when I went to sign up, this is what their terms said:

With activation $ 19.95


• 5% dsctose. by automatic debit

• 5% of Bill E - 1st, 2nd, 3rd Bill

• 30% dsctose. In the (favorite Number) frequently called

• RETURN ACTIVATION FEE $ 19.99 from 6 months reflected in the bill

Not knowing this phone company well, I am afraid they'll take my $19.95, and not offer anything in return. Will they be liable if they do so, with the above Terms and Conditions, given that I was provided a verbal assurance of what I described above?


Ignoring the specifics here.

A contract in writing is definitive - what was "said" or written before the signed contract is irrelevant. These pre-contractural exchanges are negotiations and a lot of positions are taken in negotiation that do not survive into the contract. However, you cannot speak untruths in your negotiations - that is misrepresntation and may render the ensuing contract void or become a term of the contract. Also, if a party is in "trade or commerce" they cannot engage in misleading or deceptive conduct - that is a statutory breach.

What it says is what it means. If a term is defined in the contract then that's what it means. If it isn't than it takes its normal English meaning. If, as above, it appears to be gibberish it doesn't mean anything. In a written contract, what the parties intended is irrelevant, what matters is the words that are written down (unless they agree on what they intended).

  • In other words, they will be allowed to simply not follow through on their end? Or, as the other answer suggested, I will be allowed to interpret the contract in a way that is coherent with what I believe it says, and does not contradict what is written? For example, I can interpret "30% dsctose. In the (favorite Number) frequently called" as "30% discount for calls to the phone number most frequently called by me".
    – Alex
    May 29 '18 at 2:04
  • @Alex: In English-law-derived jurisdictions, ambiguities are usually interpreted against the party who drafted the document. But you need to check where any lawsuit will be (just because they advertise in your country does not mean you can sue them there); if it is China or Zimbabwe different assumptions apply. Also, how much in legal fees are you willing to spend to recover your outlay? May 29 '18 at 17:30
  • @TimLymington the contra preferendum rule can be (and often is) be overridden by the contract.
    – Dale M
    May 30 '18 at 11:33

First, if by "they say" you literally mean they use spoken words, and not a printed advertisement, or an advertisement on the internet that you can print out, then you may have a hard time proving what they said. If you can prove what they said that would be very helpful, a seller may be in trouble if their contract is not the same as what they promised.

If things go to court, then a judge will first figure out what the contract is (let's say both sides have a copy of the contract - but the words are different, then a jury decides). That's not what we have here. Then the judge decides what the words in the contract mean. If the words are ambiguous, then the judge interprets the words in favour of the person who didn't write the contract.

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