The Alabama Supreme Court has upheld a jury’s decision to award an Iranian-born businessman $7.5 million in a defamation lawsuit. Shawn Esfahani, owner of the Eastern Shore Toyota car dealership, has won his lawsuit against Bob Tyler, who owns a competing Toyota dealership in Pensacola. Esfahani had sued Tyler for slander, successfully proving that Bob Tyler employees spread false rumors to car shoppers that he was an Iraqi terrorist and supported insurgents in Iraq. Testimony during the trial revealed that some employees referred to Esfahani’s business as “Taliban Toyota” and “Middle Eastern Shore Toyota.” The jury ruled in favor of Eastern Shore Toyota and awarded $2.5 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. The Defendant appealed.
In its opinion upholding the decision, the Supreme Court justices called the action of those involved to be “especially reprehensible,” adding:
The Court cannot fathom a worse trifecta of crimes of which to accuse a businessman and his business than treason and funding terrorism and the murder of American soldiers . . .
Esfahani fled from Iran in 1980, when he was 16, after the Islamic revolution. He first moved to Spain, learning to read and write English in four months. He then became a U.S. citizen and opened Eastern Shore Toyota in December 2007 after years of working in car sales. Vince Kilborn, the Mobile lawyer who represented Esfahani’s, called the Supreme Court’s opinion “historic.” Ben said:
This was the largest slander verdict they’ve ever upheld unanimously. The justices all decided that we’re going to draw a bright line in the sand, that no matter where you’re from, if someone defames you this bad, they are going to uphold not only the compensatory damages, but the punitive as well. They didn’t cut a penny.
Vince did a very good job in this most interesting case. Historically, defamatory cases have been very difficult to win.