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Car Dealer Labeled 'Taliban Toyota' Wins $7.5M Slander Verdict

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By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on November 03, 2011 8:45 AM

Naturalized American Shawn Esfahani, whose dealership was called the "Taliban Toyota" in a smear campaign, has a verdict in hand. And it's a big one.

He's been awarded $7.5 million in damages after a jury trial in Alabama.

Esfahani is the owner of the Eastern Shore Toyota in Daphne, Alabama. His rival, Bob Tyler Toyota, is based in Pensacola, Florida.

Esfahani said that workers from the Bob Tyler dealership started spreading rumors about his background, reports Reuters.

One worker told potential buyers that Esfahani, who is from Iran, was "helping fund the insurgents there and is also laundering money there."

A Bob Tyler salesman also said that Esfahani was from Iraq and that he was a "terrorist."

If these allegations were true, Bob Tyler Toyota wouldn't be at fault. Truth is generally a defense against claims of defamation.

But the statements were false. And since they were spoken to customers, they are considered "published" statements. Esfahani's case fit all the requirements of a defamation case -- and the jury ruled in his favor.

There is no doubt that being dubbed a "terrorist" doesn't do one's business any favors. It's more than likely that the customers who heard the disparaging comments might have decided not to purchase vehicles from Esfahani's Toyota dealership.

Would you be willing to buy a car from someone if you were told they funneled money towards terrorism? It certainly doesn't seem very patriotic.

But neither is spreading lies. The "Taliban Toyota" verdict included $2.5 million in compensatory and $5 million in punitive damages. Shawn Esfahani had originally sought $28 million, reports Reuters. He hopes his case sets a precedent against racial targeting.

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