A former Palos Verdes Estates liquor store owner who said he was ambushed in his store by two men wearing costumes and wielding baseball bats on the 14th anniversary of 9/11 was awarded nearly $800,000 Thursday.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated about a day before finding in favor of Shuja Oberoi. The 66-year-old Muslim Pakistani immigrant testified that he wondered if he would survive the 2015 attack at the Golden Lion Liquor by George Leventis and Mattias Kelterborn in which their companion, Nicholas Ferrara, acted as a lookout.
Kelterborn was originally a defendant in the case, but was not part of the lawsuit when it went to trial. The $780,000 collective total against Leventis and Ferrara included punitive damages assessments against both of $300,000 and $100,000, respectively.
Leventis' attorney, Oscar Roesler, said he will bring a motion to reduce the amount of punitive damages. He said punitive damage assessments are based on ability to pay, but Ferrera has no income and Leventis is just learning his craft as an apprentice.
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Roesler also said he believes there should be an additional $285,000 offset in the damages awarded Oberoi.
Oberoi suffered a broken left arm and a scalp laceration during the attack, but said he initially feared his injuries were much worse.
"I sensed and smelled death,'' Oberoi testified.
Oberoi's lawsuit, filed in February 2016, alleged he was targeted because of his heritage, but the jury did not find the attack was racially motivated.
Lawyers for Leventis and Ferrara maintained the motive was robbery and that Leventis wanted to get some alcohol to bring to a high school party later that day.
Leventis and Ferrara both conceded liability in the case and the trial was held to determine the amount of Oberoi's damages.
According to Oberoi, he had long been active in the city, jogged frequently and always looked forward to going to work. He said Ferrara came into the business about three times prior, buying candy and a drink one time and exchanging something during the last visit. Oberoi's attorneys maintained Ferrara was checking to see if the coast was clear for Leventis and Kelterborn to enter and assault the plaintiff.
Kelterborn and Leventis were 17 years old at the time and Ferrara was 15.
Oberoi said one of the assailants entered shortly after 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2015, wearing a costume and a skeleton mask and holding a bat the way a batter would at the plate. Shortly thereafter, a second intruder similarly dressed and also holding a bat appeared and bottles began crashing from their display cases, Oberoi said. Police have said only one bat was believed to have been used.
The plaintiff said he soon found himself injured on the floor, and trying to find the store security button to call for help.
He said he eventually got up after the attack and ran to a nearby restaurant, asking the people there to call the police. He said he returned to the store drenched in blood.
In his testimony, Leventis insisted robbery, not Oberoi's ethnicity, was the reason for the attack.
"I only cared about the money and the alcohol,'' Leventis said.
Leventis, Kelterborn and Ferrara were all prosecuted in Long Beach Juvenile Court and sentenced to a juvenile camp.
Oberoi's son, Ali Oberoi, said outside the courtroom that his father suffered significant trauma from the attack and closed the liquor store in late 2016. He said the family attempted to sell the business, but there were no buyers.