Beating victim awarded US$63m

Last updated 11:32 03/07/2013

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A house painter left so badly brain damaged that he is unable to speak has been awarded US$63 million (NZ$75m) by a US jury after a beating at a bar left him with half his skull permanently bashed in.

Antonio Lopez Chaj appeared at a news conference in Los Angeles this week with lawyers who announced the award handed down against a security company.

It was among the largest damage awards ever given to one person in California, his lawyers said.

They added they expect an appeal and there could be settlement negotiations before Chaj even receives anything.

The 43-year-old had to be supported by relatives at the news conference. When he took off a baseball cap hiding his injuries, gasps could be heard from people present.

"His skull is like a pie with 25 per cent cut out of it," said lawyer Federico Sayre.

Chaj was attacked at a mid-Wilshire bar after trying to intervene in an attack by a bartender and security guard on two relatives who were with him.

Lawyers said an unlicensed, untrained security guard beat Chaj with a baton, kicked him in the head eight times and smashed his skull against the pavement four times.

"It was truly a horrendous and brutal beating by a guy who shouldn't have been working at all," said Sayre, who represented Chaj along with Fernando Chavez, the son of famed civil rights leader Cesar Chavez.

The security guard, Emerson Quintanilla, and the bartender-manager who sparked the attack have disappeared without a trace, he added.

"I think the man went crazy, lost his mind," he said of Quintanilla.

"It was a species of road rage."

Sayre said the confrontation began on April 20, 2010 when Chaj, his brother and two nephews, who all worked as house painters, went to Barra Latina, a neighbourhood bar.

One of the relatives got into a dispute with the bartender-manager who came after him with brass knuckles, Sayre said while Quintanilla, who was working for DGSP Security and Patrol Services, began kicking and beating members of the group.

Chaj tried to intervene and said: "Stop beating my nephews."

At that point, Sayre said, the guard beat him into unconsciousness. Part of his skull was gone when he reached the hospital.

"They saved his life but he has significant brain damage," Sayre said.

"He can't speak and he requires 24-hour nursing care."

He said his client faced more surgery.

In civil courts, only nine of the 12 jurors have to agree on a verdict, the lawyer said. But this jury was unanimous in finding for the plaintiffs on all claims, and it granted the award the plaintiffs requested.

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- AP

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