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Sister sues over sale of Mercedes to mentally ill man

Woman wants deal rescinded, damages

– An Ohio woman has sued a local Mercedes-Benz dealership, alleging a salesman sold her mentally ill brother a car he could not afford.

And when she tried to get the company to rescind the loan and give her brother back the vehicle he had traded in, Mercedes-Benz of Fort Wayne refused and sold the man’s 2007 Buick LaCrosse, the suit claims.

Sandra Kay Temple of Van Wert filed the lawsuit last week in Allen Superior Court on behalf of her brother, for whom she has power of attorney. In the lawsuit, she said the $82,031 contract should be rescinded because of her brother’s lack of mental capacity and undue influence was exerted on him.

Her brother, a 60-year-old veteran who receives VA benefits and Social Security disability income benefits for schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder, has a fixed income of $979 a month.

Temple’s attorney, David Van Gilder, said the man is legally capable of entering into a contract and has no other financial resources than the disability income. But when he left the auto dealership Aug. 18, he had five years’ worth of $1,367-a-month car payments, according to court documents.

An attorney representing the car dealership disagreed with the claims in the suit, adding they intend to defend in court.

Until early August, Temple’s brother took Abilify to control his manic episodes and treat his schizophrenia. But due to side effects, his doctor took him off the drug, according to court documents.

Within days of stopping the medication, according to court documents, the man began experiencing manic episodes that involved hearing voices, delusions of grandeur and impulsive behavior.

On Thursday, Aug. 18, he left his Antwerp home and drove to Fort Wayne to look at cars while continuing to experience manic episodes, according to court documents.

Temple was not present at the dealership and had no idea her brother was going to buy a vehicle, according to court documents.

While the man was at the dealership, salesman Anthony Poignard talked to the man about buying a new Mercedes E350 sedan and urged him to take a test drive. After the test drive, court documents said, the man asked Poignard to check with the bank to see whether he had sufficient funds to buy the car.

Poignard talked to an employee at the bank and then told the man everything was fine, according to court documents. Poignard told the man he could buy the car, which had a retail cost of $61,025. The man traded in the Buick for $7,000, even though he still owed $7,370 on the car, according to court documents.

Additional charges were added: $1,295 for Simonizing, $1,495 for maintenance and $5,995 for a service contract, as well as other fees and taxes, bringing the cost to $71,790. When spread over five years, with interest, the man will pay more than $82,000 for the car, according to a copy of the contract included in court documents.

Temple learned of her brother’s purchase on Saturday, Aug. 20. She called the dealership that day and told the sales manager that her brother had limited capacity to understand his own finances. She offered to return the vehicle in exchange for the return of his Buick and the cancellation of the contract, according to court documents.

The sales manager told Temple that Mercedes-Benz of Fort Wayne would hold the Buick for her and not sell it, according to court documents.

Temple also contacted a lawyer, who advised her to return the car as soon as she could. A family emergency prevented her from taking the car back to Fort Wayne until Tuesday, Aug. 23, Van Gilder said.

Van Gilder said Temple returned the Mercedes and asked for the Buick, but the dealership refused to give it to her.

On Aug. 28, Van Gilder noticed an advertisement that appeared in Fort Wayne Newspapers and on the dealership’s website that advertised the Buick for sale for $9,884.

According to Mike Myers, executive director of the Fort Wayne affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, taking steps such as giving a family member power of attorney is recommended to protect those whose decision-making abilities are impaired.

“Mental illnesses are biological in the same way that diabetes and heart conditions are biological,” Myers said in a written statement. “Unfortunately, those who live with a mental illness are the occasional victims of their own brains giving them information that is untrue and misleading.”

Ryan Campbell, owner of Mercedes-Benz of Fort Wayne, declined to comment, saying he had not seen a copy of the lawsuit. He referred calls to his attorney.

The dealership’s attorney, James Buchholz, also said he had not seen a copy of the lawsuit, though it was filed Oct. 11 and court documents show a copy of the lawsuit was mailed to Mercedes-Benz of Fort Wayne and Ryan Campbell on Oct. 5.

The Journal Gazette faxed a copy of the lawsuit to Buchholz for his review Wednesday.

In response, Buchholz said the company will investigate the allegations in the complaint and plan to defend it in court.

“We don’t agree with the assertions made in the complaint,” Buchholz said.

Temple is seeking punitive damages from the dealership as well as the cancellation of the sales contract, according to court documents.

“As a result of (the man’s) advanced age, unstable mental condition, and other incapacities, he was especially susceptible to undue influence exercised by Mercedes,” Van Gilder wrote in the lawsuit.

“The Agreement is such as no sensible person in (the man’s) position not under delusion, duress or in distress would make, and such as no honest and fair person would accept,” he wrote.

In an interview, Van Gilder said that when the man arrived home with the Mercedes, he told his sister he believed that the dealership had given him the car in an even trade for his Buick.

“He just didn’t know what he was doing,” Van Gilder said.

rgreen@jg.net

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