Elon Musk found not liable in case brought against him by British diver

After a three-day trial, Elon Musk was found not liable for defamation in a federal court today in Los Angeles, where Musk reportedly owns a cluster of six homes as well as oversees the operations of both SpaceX and, to some extent, Tesla, which is headquartered in Palo Alto.

British diver Vernon Unsworth had brought the suit against Musk in the fall of 2018 after Musk tweeted that Unsworth was a “pedo guy,” meaning a pedophile. The reason, as Musk’s attorney’s argued in court, was essentially that Musk threw a temper tantrum. After Musk and his employees developed what they called a a mini-submarine or escape pod to save a children’s soccer team from a flooded cave in Thailand in July of 2018, Unsworth — a stranger to Musk and an experienced diver with knowledge of the cave — called the production a “PR stunt” when asked about the effort in an interview with CNN.

Unsworth brought the suit after Musk doubled down on his accusation, describing Unsworth as a “child rapist” in August 2018 emails to Buzzfeed. He claimed in court this week that since “being branded a pedophile” by Musk, he has felt “vulnerable and sometimes, when I’m in the U.K., I feel isolated.”

Unsworth — who in addition to being a diver is a financial consultant who divides his time between England and Thailand — was seeking damages from Musk to the tune of $190 million, including actual assumed, and punitive damages, and this week, his team tried to make the point that what he was seeking is a pittance for Musk, who was force to estimate his own net worth during the trial and guessed this was $20 billion, based on his Tesla and SpaceX holdings.

During the trial, Musk apologizes at least twice for the “pedo guy” tweet, saying that what he’d really meant was “creepy old man,” which still sounds nearly as perverted to our ears. The court, however, ultimately decided Musk did not genuinely believe that Unsworth is a pedophile and this outburst was not meant as a statement of fact.

As CNBC notes, the verdict could “set a precedent where free speech online, libel and slander are concerned” as the case was among the first court cases brought by a private individual over a tweet.