After a four-day-long trial, a jury took less than an hour to decide that Tesla CEO Elon Musk did not defame British caver Vernon Unsworth when he sent a tweet calling Unsworth “pedo guy.”
“My faith in humanity is restored,” Musk said as he was leaving the courtroom on Friday after the verdict was announced.
Unsworth sued Musk in September 2018 for defamation, seeking punitive and compensatory damages. Unsworth had helped rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach from a flooded Thai cave last year. Musk had referred to Unsworth as “pedo guy” in a tweet sent shortly after the rescue. This week, Unsworth testified that the tweet made him feel “humiliated, ashamed, dirty.”
During closing arguments on Friday, Unsworth’s attorney L. Lin Wood said the tweet was “a nuclear bomb.”
“There are people and relationships and situations that will be harmed for decades because of the fallout,” Wood said.
At the heart of the case was whether Musk’s “pedo guy” tweet was a statement of fact. According to Musk’s legal team, it was an insult that was provoked by Unsworth, who called Musk’s efforts to help with the rescue a “PR stunt.”
“We’re having a federal case about him using the wrong insult,” said defense lawyer Alex Spiro.
Musk involved himself in the Thai cave rescue by instructing his employees to build a mini submarine to help save the boys. Unsworth said in a CNN interview that Musk should “stick his submarine where it hurts.” After seeing the interview, Musk fired off his “pedo guy” tweet on July 15, 2018. In his opening statement, Spiro said Musk’s tweet “was a joking, deleted, apologized for, responsive tweet. A JDART.”
On Friday, Spiro said Musk was genuine in his efforts. “No one can bring together people like he can to do the impossible,” Spiro said.
Wood told the jury he supported $5 million in actual damages, $35 million in assumed damages and $150 million in punitive damages.
Unsworth testified earlier in the week that his annual income is about 25,000 pounds ($33,000 USD) while Musk testified his worth is about $20 billion.
Musk’s lawyers accused Unsworth of seeking fame and money. In response to the numbers Wood presented, Spiro said, “It all makes sense now.”
“They should stop monetizing the kids in the cave. They should stop monetizing with a lawsuit,” Spiro said.
Unsworth said the verdict is “not what I expected,” but added that he respects the jury’s decision.
“It is a pity that a bullying billionaire has been able to cast such a long shadow,” Unsworth’s attorney Mark Stephens said. “I hope no one else has to go through and go toe to toe with Mr. Musk again. He obviously has an enormous amount of resources.”