Elon Musk on Friday defeated defamation allegations from a British cave explorer who claimed he was branded a pedophile when the Tesla chief executive officer called him “pedo guy” in an angry tweet.
Vernon Unsworth, who participated in the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped for weeks in a Thailand cave last year, had sought US$190 million in damages for the shame and humiliation caused by the man his lawyer called a “billionaire bully.”
It took less than an hour for an eight-person jury in Los Angeles federal court to reject Unsworth’s claim after a four-day trial.
Musk said the verdict restored his faith in humanity as he quickly left the court with his security detail.
Musk — who deleted the tweet and later apologized for it — had asserted the expression was nothing more than a flippant insult that meant “creepy old man,” not pedophile.
Unsworth had provoked the attack by belittling Musk’s contribution to the rescue — a miniature submarine his engineers built that was never used — as ineffective and nothing more than a “PR stunt.”
He further earned the ire of the tech billionaire by suggesting Musk stick the sub “where it hurts.”
On Friday, it was Unsworth who felt the pain.
“I accept the jury verdict, take it on the chin, and move on,” Unsworth said outside court.
Jury foreman Joshua Jones said the panel decided Unsworth’s lawyers failed to prove their case.
He said they spent too much time trying to appeal to jurors’ emotions and not concentrating on the evidence.
“The failure probably happened because they didn’t focus on the tweets,” Jones said after the verdict was announced. “I think they tried to get our emotions involved in it.”
Attorney Lin Wood, in an impassioned and at times emotional closing argument, urged the jury to award US$190 million.
However, Musk’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, ridiculed the suggested verdict as “numbers being thrown out like The Price is Right.”
Wood said it was important to challenge Musk’s tweet in court even if they did not win.
Unsworth had said the statement would appear true if he did not sue.
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