A federal court case involving competing Toyota dealers could cost one of the dealers $7.5 million.
A U.S. jury in Mobile, Ala., last week awarded $7.5 million in damages to Eastern Shore Toyota of Daphne, Ala., after finding that the dealer, Shawn Esfahani, was slandered as "Taliban Toyota" by employees of Bob Tyler Toyota in nearby Pensacola, Fla.
Esfahani is a naturalized U.S. citizen who fled his native Iran in 1980 to escape the Islamic Revolution. "I was very pleased my case was heard and the 12 jurors did their best,'' Esfahani said in a phone interview.
Bob Tyler, owner of Bob Tyler Toyota, released a statement saying he would appeal the decision: "Our attorneys will file motions within the next 30 days to have this verdict reversed. We expect to prevail."
Tyler also said that upon learning of the inappropriate remarks, he spoke with each employee to be sure the remarks would not be repeated.
Esfahani, who opened the dealership in 2008, contends his business was damaged. He said rumors emerged that his dealership was on a blacklist at U.S. military bases in the area and that his business with the military population all but dried up.
Esfahani and Tyler met in court in another dust-up last year, when Tyler accused Esfahani of violating an anti-cybersquatting provision in the Consumer Protection Act, according to the Pensacola News Journal.
Morelaw.com, a legal Web site that keeps track of civil lawsuits, reported that Esfahani had purchased 14 Internet domain names with "Bob Tyler" or other variations on the name with the intent to misdirect people to his Eastern Shore Toyota Web site. Tyler sued, seeking $1 million in damages, according to morelaw.com. Esfahani claimed he did not know that buying the domains violated the anti-cybersquatting provision. Esfahani prevailed in that lawsuit, too, according to published reports.
Toyota Motor Sales spokesman Curt McAllister said: "The matter is between the two dealers, and the court has made its decision."
Reuters contributed to this report