Tesla CEO Elon Musk has won a defamation lawsuit brought forth by British caver Vernon Unsworth. The jury of the Los Angeles federal court found Musk to be not liable for $190 million in damages asked by Unsworth. Musk’s Twitter exchange with Unsworth did not meet the legal standard for defamation, according to the court ruling on Friday.
Musk and Unsworth were involved in a war of words in the public eye after the Tesla CEO offered his help in the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue in Thailand, where a team of junior soccer players was trapped. Musk offered multiple Tesla engineers, along with a small submarine to Thailand that was intended to rescue the boys from the cave.
Instead, Unsworth said the help from Musk was not genuine and accused him of running a “PR stunt” that had “absolutely no chance of working” and told him to “stick his submarine where it hurts,” in an interview with CNN. Musk responded with a tweet that insulted Unsworth, calling him a “pedo guy”, that has since been deleted. Musk stated the insult was commonly used in his native South Africa.
Musk testified in a Los Angeles courtroom on Tuesday and Wednesday and stated the tweet was not meant to be taken in a literal way. In fact, Musk did not realize Unsworth was apart of the search and rescue operation and thought he was “just some random creepy guy.” Musk apologized and said the tweets were “obviously a very off-the-cuff response.”
In court on Thursday, December 5, Unsworth said the words Musk used to describe him “humiliated him”. He told jurors, “It feels very raw. I feel humiliated. Ashamed. Dirtied. Effectively, from day one, I was given a life sentence without parole. It hurts to talk about it,” as he held back tears.
The $190 million Unsworth requested comprised of $150 million in punitive damages and $40 million for assumed and actual damages. However, Musk will not be required to pay this sum, a victory for the man responsible for bringing electric car company Tesla to the forefront. “my faith in humanity is restored,” Musk said as he left the courtroom.
All of the boys trapped in the cave survived. The only fatality took place during the search and rescue mission when a diver lost his life during the operation.