A Florida-based Toyota dealership was sued by a competi... A Florida-based Toyota dealership was sued by a competitor for defamation (Michael @ NW Lens, flickr)
MOBILE, Ala. - An Alabama jury has awarded $7.5 million to an Iranian-born car dealer who sued a Florida competitor for defamation, claiming workers there portrayed him as a terrorist.

A jury in Mobile awarded the judgment Monday to Shawn Esfahani in his lawsuit against Bob Tyler Toyota in Pensacola, Fla. The Iranian-born Esfahani owns Eastern Shore Toyota.

The Press-Register newspaper reports that the man filed suit claiming workers at Bob Tyler Toyota told customers that Esfahani is from the Middle East and was funneling money to terrorists, calling his business "Taliban Toyota."

A Bob Tyler salesman was accused of telling a couple that Esfahani was from Iraq and calling him a "terrorist" who put soldiers including the salesman's brother in harm's way.

"(Esfahani) is funneling money back to his family and other terrorists. I have a brother over there and what you're doing is helping kill my brother," the salesman told the couple, according to the suit.

The jury deliberated for three hours before awarding Esfahani $2.5 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. Word of mouth is a powerful medium, and case law is full of mechants trying to slander and defame competitors for the purposes of trying to deprive them of customers and harm their businesses and reputations.

Esfahani fled Iran in 1980 after the Islamic revolution and is now a U.S. citizen. "The feeling I received in the courtroom for the truth to come out was worth a lot more than any money anybody can give me," Esfahani told Reuters news service on Tuesday.

Esfahani opened his car dealership in 2007.

The Taliban are hardline fundamentalist Islamists in the central Asian nations of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Associated Press contributed to this report


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