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These door-to-door energy salesmen came by my house wanting me to switch energy companies.

They made several worse-than-dubious claims including trying to hide the fact they were representing another energy company rather than the one I had.

In any case they wanted to offer me $29.95 flat rate for unlimited gas usage. They claimed thirty day money back guarantee, at which point I told them to leave. (Scam has now become obvious--it would take four or five months to notice if they were lying and the money back guarantee is shorter than that).

I'm convinced they took in a lot of my neighbors.

They actually wrote their offer rate onto the piece of paper they wanted me to sign without reading. Let us say I hadn't told them to leave, how long would have the company actually selling gas had to honor that ridiculous rate?

Hint: the rate is ridiculous because I would gladly buy a natural gas generator and switch all my electrical stuff to gas if it were remotely competitive because PG&E can't offer reasonable power availability guarantees anymore.

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how long would have the company actually selling gas had to honor that ridiculous rate?

That would depend on the terms (if any) of (1) the contract the salesmen wanted you to sign without reading, or (2) what you are able to prove the salesmen told you. Absent these, the ruling may be based on criteria of customary practice, such as the length of one billing period.

That being said, you can expect the company to dispute your claim by arguing that your reliance towards entering the contract was unreasonable. Bringing to light that you perceived salesmens' arguments as dubious would establish unreasonable reliance, thereby striking your claim(s) of fraud/scam.

The company could also resort to Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 90(1) (and equivalently §139(1)) by positing that injustice (that is, the injustice of that the promise be binding) can be avoided by means other than enforcement of the promise: namely, by reimbursing the amount you paid.

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  • Last paragraph is more or less what I'm after. I think they duped some neighbors who wouldn't know so fast the offer is unreasonable.
    – Joshua
    Aug 23 '19 at 21:08
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    I agree. Some unsuspecting neighbors might not necessarily detect the inconsistencies you noticed. Unfortunately it would still be difficult for them to prove that their reliance was reasonable unless they are in a vulnerable group (elders, illiterate people, and so forth). Aug 23 '19 at 22:16
  • The Restatement (Second) of Contracts is available here, now that the law firm of the link in this answer removed that resource and posted some useless "overview of contract law" instead. Jan 3 '20 at 15:14
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It is unclear if a door-to-door salesperson has the authority to bind the energy company to a deal not pre-authorized by the company. If the salesperson does not have authority, the deal is probably going to be voided, with the customer's money returned, and possibly additional damages paid to the customer for inconvenience and perhaps loss of opportunity to make some other deal instead. Punitive damages might also be awarded in an egregious case.

However, if the offer were valid, and the salesperson was authorized to bind the company, then the offer, and the resulting agreement, ought to specify a term. Real offers of special pricing normnally do specify a term ("offer good for 3 months" "special price valid for 24 months" "Price guaranteed for 5 years, with annual price increases of no more than 3 percent"). In that case the resulting agreement will be binding and valid for the term specified, whatever that may be.

"Unlimited" is often read in a non-literal way in service contracts. it is taken to mean "the upper end of a reasonable range of service levels". So a contract for "unlimited gas" might mean as much as a somewhat extravagant user could actually use in normal residential use, but not to re-sell to everyone on the block, nor to run a gas generator to replace electric supplies. But this will depend on local custom and precedent, and how the judge treats the matter. (If it is a real valid offer, there may well be 'fine print" specifying just how limited "unlimited" really is. This has often been done, and upheld (I believe), with "unlimited data" internet service plans, for example.)

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  • Gas versions of major appliances exist.
    – Joshua
    Aug 23 '19 at 22:04
  • Yes, but there is a difference between a residential gas dryer or furnace, and a commercial gas baking oven or an electric generator fit to power half the town. The residential appliance is reasonable. Aug 23 '19 at 22:06
  • Ah. I was referring to running a residential backup gas generator all the time in the question.
    – Joshua
    Aug 23 '19 at 22:08

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