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Dealer sells car to man with dementia

A California dealership will take back the $62,000 convertible after the man's sister hired an attorney to challenge the sale.

By Giselle Smith Mar 14, 2012 5:02PM

Without admitting wrongdoing, a car dealer in Petaluma, Calif., has agreed to take back a $62,130 convertible it sold in December to a 70-year-old man suffering from dementia.


The owner of the Nissan dealership, Greg Dexter, said that publicity from the case had resulted in death threats against him, according to The Press Democrat.


Ed Dowdall suffers from an advanced form of Lewy body dementia, says the Petaluma Argus-Courier. Left alone briefly on Dec. 14, Dowdall drove his Nissan Altima Hybrid to Dexter's dealership, where he traded it in for a 2011 Nissan Murano convertible with expensive extras and signed a contract for monthly payments of $923.


Though legally separated from her husband, Amy Appleton Dowdall has power of attorney for him, and on the day he went car shopping, she was meeting with his brother to discuss long-term care options.


"He never in a million years would have agreed to this in his sound mind," Appleton Dowdall told the Argus-Courier, describing her husband as normally frugal and meticulous about expenses. (Post continues below.)

She tried contacting the dealership about negating the contract but had no luck, so she hired an attorney, who wrote a letter citing a California law against entering into a contract with someone who has an "unsound" mind.


Who's responsible?

After a newspaper article about the dispute appeared last week, Dexter received angry emails, phone calls and even death threats, he told The Press Democrat. He insists the salesperson had no inkling that the customer wasn't capable of making such a decision.


Dowdall was known at the dealership, having purchased his Altima there in 2008 and bringing it in for service, Dexter said. Dowdall reportedly came to the dealership in November to look at the Murano, then returned in December to buy it, telling the salesperson his wife wouldn't be happy about it. 


Dexter said the dealership won't sell a car to anyone suspected of being "under the influence of drugs, attempting a fraud or exhibiting other 'red flags,'" but he insisted that Dowdall did not fall into any of these categories.


Other questionable car sales

Unfortunately, Dowdall's story is not unique. For instance:

  • According to The Journal Gazette, an Ohio woman last year sued an Indiana dealership, claiming it had sold a vehicle to her 60-year-old brother, who had recently stopped taking medication to control manic episodes and treat schizophrenia. His only financial resources were monthly disability checks for $979, the newspaper said, but he left the dealership with a contract for more than $82,000, on which he was to pay $1,367 per month for five years.
  • In November 2010, a California dealership sold a truck to a 67-year-old man who suffered from severe dementia, after the man had left a nursing home in his pajamas and slippers, according to Not long after buying the pickup, the man led police on a high-speed chase, during which he suffered a heart attack and died.

Legal contracts require that both parties entering an agreement have the mental capacity to do so. However, proving a contract is invalid can be a complicated process requiring legal action. The American Bar Association Legal Guide explains:

The standards for determining mental capacity are remarkably complex and differ widely from one state to another. One common test is whether people have the capacity to understand what they were doing and to appreciate its effects when they made the deal.

It's difficult to determine here who, if anyone, is at fault.


Have you ever known a car dealership to be overzealous or irresponsible in making a sale?


More on MSN Money:


Mar 14, 2012 11:02PM
so he wanted the car.  it's not like the dealer sold him the car 3 weeks in a row.  but, $900/mo for a murano?  highway robbery.
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