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Jury awards $58 million to man missing part of skull after beating

Crime, Law and JusticeJustice SystemPolitics and GovernmentImmigrationInsurance

Antonio Lopez Chaj's skull looks a pie chart with a quarter missing. He cannot speak, needs help to walk and needs 24 hours care after being severely beaten by a security guard in a Los Angeles bar three years ago, his attorneys say.

After hearing evidence about the horrific April 2010 attack, a Torrance jury awarded the 43-year-old immigrant painter nearly $58 million in economic and medical losses. His injuries were so severe that doctors had to remove a portion of his brain and skull.

"It took the jury about two and a half hours to reach a verdict," said Federico Sayre. "We were all very nervous when they came back so quickly but they were unanimous on everything. It is a victory for justice."

Sayre said Chaj's injuries are so devastating that while he recognizes his loved ones and his attorneys, he may not understand the decision.

"I have explained to him that he now is going to be taken care of the rest of his long life," Sayre said of the multimillion-dollar verdict against the security company, DGSP Security and Patrol Services. "As you can see, 25% of his skull is missing."

Chaj, his brother and two nephews were involved in a fight April 19, 2010, at La Barra Latina 2 near Catalina and 8th streets in the Pico Union area. According to court filings, the fight began after a bartender refused to serve one of his nephews, who then called the bartender a name. The bartender then allegedly attacked the nephew.

With minutes, a security guard became involved and began using a baton on Chaj's relatives. When Chaj tried to intervene, he was attacked by the guard.

"A security guard struck him in the head with a baton several times and pulled him outside the bar," said Sayre, who along with Fernando Chavez, the son of civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, represented the painter. "He repeatedly hit him in the head and slammed his head into the pavement multiple times."

During the trial, an LAPD investigator testified that the security guard denied using a baton to police, Sayre said. She believed the guard struck Chaj repeatedly in the skull with a metal baton.

The guard was never charged in the case because police said they lacked independent witnesses to the assault. The guard disappeared before the civil trial. Sayre said at trial he presented evidence the guard was unlicensed and had no permit for a baton.

The enormous verdict includes $11.5 million for future medical expenses, $35 million for past pain and suffering and $11 million for future pain and suffering.

Sayre said he expects lawyers for the security company to ask the judge to reduce the verdict. If that fails, he expects an appeal.

He said the security company effectively had an unlimited insurance policy because its insurer failed to take steps to limit the policy to $1 million.

Chavez's law partner, John De Leon, said the case illustrates a willingness for jurors to award those who deserve it regardless of their immigration status.

"This verdict for the injuries suffered by a then-undocumented immigrant highlights that just juries are prepared to compensate injured parties, regardless of immigration status, fully," he said. "It is a great day for the American justice system."

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