Photo By David Robert Reno Dodge is facing a lawsuit by a woman who says she was taken advantage of, not at the car lot, but in her hospital room

In a lawsuit filed in Nevada District Court, Reno Dodge is being accused of a macabre sales method—getting a woman to sign a car purchase contract while she was groggy and incapacitated in a hospital bed, at the behest of the woman’s daughter.

Barbara Jobbins’ lawsuit says she was hospitalized May 25 for a “right cerebral vascular accident with left hemiparesis.” Jobbins is 70.

Her attorney, Kevin Karp, says that while Jobbins was in the hospital, one of her adult daughters approached Reno Dodge about taking her mother’s 2003 Lincoln Navigator as a trade-in against a 2005 Dodge Magnum. The Lincoln was already paid off.

“When she went in the hospital with the stroke, one of those adult children got hold of her Lincoln and went and decided that—the child, the adult child, 30-something-year-old child—[she] wanted a new car. And mom was in the hospital, she figured this was the time to take advantage of mom. So she goes to the dealership and she says, ‘Mom wants to buy a new car.’ And the dealer goes, ‘You know we need mom’s signature.’ And she goes, ‘Well, mom’s in the hospital.’ So the salesman and the daughter go to the hospital room and the daughter, with the salesman in the room watching, the daughter basically picks up mom’s hand and helps her sign the contract.”

The daughter is not a target of the lawsuit, which describes the mother as having been “incapacitated in said hospital bed and incapable [of] making a conscientious decision in regards to the purchase of an automobile.” Karp said the daughter was not sued because she has no power to rescind the contract.

“When Reno Dodge brought that point up [the culpability of the daughter], I said, ‘Look, guys, you’re welcome to do a third-party action against her, but we primarily want recission and the daughter can’t rescind the contract.'” He said he and Jobbins had no desire to sue, but the only recission offer their discussions would have required Jobbins to pay some costs.

Reno Dodge gave $30,000 for the Lincoln as a trade-in against the purchase of a 2005 Dodge Magnum, Karp said.

“They wrote it up—they had to even it out—they had to make everything $30,000 on the button so they basically backpriced it, if you will. They said, ‘We’re going to give you 30, so we have to backprice it to make sure all the other numbers add up to 30.’ So the price on the Magnum was $29,085.”

But Karp said the actual worth of the Magnum is less than $29,085 and the Navigator—which, again, was already paid for—was worth much more than $30,000. “So they, in effect, got $40,000 for a $25,000 car,” he said.

According to the manufacturer, Daimler Chrysler Group, the Dodge Magnum starts at $22,020 and tops out at $32,070. According to autos.MSN.com, however, the sticker price tends to run from $20,488 to $29,533.

Kelley Blue Book puts the value of a 2003 Lincoln Navigator at $33,000 to $34,400.

No details are available on the vehicles, though Karp called the Lincoln “fully loaded.”

When Jobbins got out of the hospital, she went to stay with a second daughter. Karp says the second daughter at some point asked, “Mom, where’s your car?” And soon, Jobbins found out what had happened. The Dodge is now garaged pending resolution of the lawsuit. The lawsuit says Reno Dodge refused Jobbins’ request that the contract be rescinded.

Jobbins is seeking $10,000 in special damages, $40,000 in punitive damages, lawyers fees, and $30,000 in special damages to be doubled under a Nevada law that kicks in when “an older person or a vulnerable person … suffers a loss of money or property caused by exploitation.” She declined an interview.

The salesman, Ricky Grasser, said his manager instructed him not to discuss the case. The manager, Jay Fletcher, said he would do an interview but would not discuss details of the case.

“[We] intensely disagree with the allegations as the facts are not at all what their attorney, Karp, is representing them. Maybe you should look into the reputation of Karp in this situation. He doesn’t have a very good one. It’s just not the way we treat our customers, and none of the facts are correct.”

(Karp has been attorney for a Lemmon Valley man who kept four rare Siberian tigers, for motorcyclists who were ejected from a courtroom because security guards objected to the messages on their clothing, and for accused murderer James Malone in Lovelock in 2003, during which he disagreed with a judge’s decision to close the preliminary hearing to the public. He has been critical of District Attorney Richard Gammick for failing to prosecute in connection with the destruction of Democratic voter registrations last year. He is also an actor in local theatre productions. Nothing was found to support Fletcher’s characterization of Karp.)

Fletcher said he wouldn’t say if the contract was signed in a hospital room. Asked why, he said, “Because that’s all that I’m going to tell you is what I told you.” He said the reason he couldn’t discuss the case was that his insurance company’s attorney, Ellen Winograd, had instructed him not to. He didn’t identify the insurer. Fletcher also said that instructions from the lawyers and the insurance company were the reason he wouldn’t permit Grasser to talk.

Winograd, the attorney defending Reno Dodge, also declined comment on the case except to say, “[W]hat I can tell you, based on the public record documents, is that although this has been fashioned as an elder abuse case, it is truly a case of a sales contract or a purchaser who has remorse over the purchase.” She referred additional questions to her Sept. 26 answer filed with the court.

That filing, however, raised additional questions. It says that Jobbins “has no standing to sue” Reno Dodge but doesn’t explain why, and Winograd declined to elaborate. It also says Jobbins failed to allow Reno Dodge an opportunity to “cure any alleged breach” before suing, which Karp disputes. And the response says Jobbins isn’t entitled to make claims or seek remedies because of “her own negligence” and because she arrived in court with “unclean hands.” No explanation was offered of why her case was tainted by her own allegedly bad behavior.

Jobbins has left Nevada and is living in California.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...