Car Dealership Accused of Coercing Elderly Woman

KNOX, Ind. (CN) – An elderly Indiana woman claims in court that she was taken for a ride after she was lured into a car dealership by a mail flyer and kept there for five hours while she was pressured into buying a new car.

In her lawsuit filed in Starke County, Ind., 73-year-old Lena Hopfinger says that when she showed up at Best Ford Inc. in Knox to claim a prize offered in the mail advertisement, sales personnel withheld it and promptly began to pitch the idea of buying a new car, despite her insistence that she had come only to claim her prize and could not afford a new car.

According to the Jan. 26 complaint, a sales agent then asked Hopfinger for the keys to the 2006 Chevy Malibu she owned so that Best Ford could appraise it.

Having stripped Hopfinger of her ability to leave the dealership, the complaint states, the sales agent then took the woman onto the lot to look at new cars and insisted she test drive some of them.

Details alleged in the complaint explain how, for more than five hours, she had no access to her own vehicle and felt “intimidated” and “restrained” by the sales agent.

Hopfinger also says she is diabetic and asked for water and food to keep her blood sugar level from dropping to a dangerous level, but was only offered salty popcorn.

“Plaintiff repeatedly explained that she needed to leave to eat food,” the complaint states. “Dealer continued to refuse to return plaintiff’s keys.”

Hopfinger claims she felt “powerless” and her ability to make decisions became impaired due to her low blood sugar.

With her judgment impaired, she says she decided the only way to leave the dealership was to buy a new car.

She bought a Ford Fiesta, retrieved her “prize” – a $5 Wal-Mart gift card – and immediately drove to a local Taco Bell to eat, according to the complaint.

While driving the car she had just bought, Hopfinger claims she had difficulty seeing over the steering wheel. With her blood sugar back to a safe level, she drove home and called the dealership to cancel the sale and retrieve her trade-in vehicle.

Best Ford allegedly refused any form of cancellation and told the elderly woman her trade-in had been sold and her only remedy was to bring the Ford Fiesta back and buy a different car.

In order to have access to suitable transportation, Hopfinger says, she returned the Fiesta to the dealership and bought a 2012 Chevy Malibu for $27,000, a more costly purchase than the Fiesta.

She never intended to make either purchase but, according to her lawsuit, she gave in because of the dealership’s “deceptive, abusive, and coercive” sales tactics.

Hopfinger seeks an unspecified amount of punitive and treble damages for claims of duress, conversion and deceptive and unfair practices. She also says she is entitled to special damages as a senior consumer under a provision of the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Practices Act.

She is represented by Adam E. Taylor of Indiana Legal Services’ South Bend office.

Best Ford did not immediately respond Wednesday to a phone call requesting comment.