Elon Musk, vernon unsworth

Unsworth’s lawyer calls for $190 million payment from Elon Musk

LOS ANGELES — Tesla founder Elon Musk should pay at least $190 million in damages for defaming a British cave explorer in tweets that suggested he was a pedophile and were like a “nuclear bomb,” the plaintiff’s lawyer said on Friday.

In his closing argument at Musk’s defamation trial, the lawyer for Vernon Unsworth said his client would feel the sting from Musk’s calling him a “pedo guy” for many years to come, affecting his relationships and job prospects, and jurors should teach the “billionaire bully” a lesson.

At least $150 million of the proposed payout would be punitive damages, which Unsworth’s lawyer L. Lin Wood said “would be a hard slap on the wrist” for Musk, who during the trial estimated his own net worth at $20 billion.

“He dropped a nuclear bomb on Vernon Unsworth,” Wood said, referring to Musk.

A lawyer for Musk will also deliver a closing argument on Friday and the three-man, five-woman jury may begin deliberating later in the day. The trial in federal court in Los Angeles began on Tuesday.

The case is believed to be the first major defamation lawsuit by a private individual to go to trial over tweets.

Musk could appeal if the jury finds him liable or imposes a large damages award.

Unsworth gained fame when he helped coordinate the rescue of a boys’ soccer team and its coach from a flooded Thailand cave, which was completed successfully on July 10, 2018.

Three days later, Unsworth gave an interview on CNN where he criticized Musk’s offer of a mini-submarine to help with the rescue as a “PR stunt” and that Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts.”

Two days later, on July 15, 2018, Musk fired off the three tweets underlying the lawsuit, questioning Unsworth’s role in the rescue and calling him “pedo guy,” with no evidence.

In his own testimony, the 48-year-old Musk called the tweets an “off the cuff” response to viewing a replay of the interview.

He said it was perhaps borne of fatigue from spending 80 to 100 hours a week running Tesla, which makes electric cars, and SpaceX, the rocket company where the mini-submarine would have come from.

Unsworth, 64, testified on Thursday that his own insult was “not to Mr. Musk personally” and declined to apologize.

“I’m not sure how I need to apologize. It was my opinion at the time and I stand by that opinion,” Unsworth said when cross-examined by one of Musk’s lawyers.

The trial has revived discussion of Musk’s erratic behavior during 2018.

This included when he used Twitter to float a leveraged buyout proposal for Tesla that was nowhere near a reality, prompting a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit that he paid $20 million to settle.

For most of 2019, Musk, who has more than 29.9 million Twitter followers, has largely kept his public comments focused on Tesla’s new models and improved profitability and on the technical progress of his SpaceX aerospace company.

To win the case, Unsworth must prove Musk was negligent in publishing a falsehood that clearly identified him and caused him harm.

He does not need to show Musk acted with “actual malice,” which is much tougher to prove.

If jurors found Musk liable, their assessment of what he had been thinking would likely affect the amount of punitive damages they assess.

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Elon Musk, vernon unsworth

Elon Musk testifies at defamation trial he responded to ‘unprovoked attack’

LOS ANGELES — Elon Musk testified Tuesday that he was being insulting, not literal, when he called a British diver a pedophile in a tweet, prompting a defamation lawsuit from the man who helped rescue a dozen boys and their soccer coach from a flooded Thailand cave last year.

The Tesla CEO told jurors that he called Vernon Unsworth “pedo guy” because he was upset the diver had belittled his efforts to help by building a mini-submarine to transport the boys. Unsworth called it nothing more than a “PR stunt” and said Musk could stick the contraption “where it hurts.” The sub was never used.

“It was wrong and insulting, so I insulted him back,” the billionaire said in federal court in Los Angeles. “It was an unprovoked attack on what was a good-natured attempt to help the kids.”

Unsworth’s lawyers argue that Musk’s tweet overshadowed what should have been one of the diver’s proudest moments and left him no choice but to sue.

“Just as I hadn’t literally meant he was a pedophile, he didn’t want to shove a sub up my ass.”

At the time, Musk said he didn’t know Unsworth had helped with the rescue. He said his tweet wasn’t intended as an actual allegation.

“Just as I hadn’t literally meant he was a pedophile, he didn’t want to shove a sub up my ass,” Musk said, provoking snickers in the courtroom.

Unsworth is seeking unspecified damages for pain, suffering and emotional distress. The defense has resisted efforts to turn over documents showing Musk’s wealth but says his net worth exceeds $20 billion.

Musk’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, said earlier that Unsworth deserves nothing for what he called “joking, taunting tweets in a fight between men.”

The shame and mortification Unsworth said he experienced is undercut by the attention he received after the rescue, Spiro said, including honors from the Thai king and British prime minister and offers from agents and film crews.

“There’s a little more to this Twitter insult, and you’ll hear it,” Spiro told jurors.

Musk has apologized for lashing out at Unsworth and removed his tweet, but he also has defended using the phrase.

“‘Pedo guy’ was a common insult used in South Africa when I was growing up,” Musk said in a court declaration. “It is synonymous with ‘creepy old man’ and is used to insult a person’s appearance and demeanor.”

Unsworth’s lawyers laughed off that explanation, saying Musk responded to a question about whether he had accused Unsworth of being a pedophile with another tweet that said, “Bet ya a signed dollar it’s true.”

The diver’s lawyers also said Musk hired private investigators to dig up evidence Unsworth was a child molester, which they never found.

Musk suggested in emails to BuzzFeed that Unsworth was a “child rapist” and had moved to northern Thailand to take “a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time.” He provided no evidence.

The lawsuit is not the first time Musk’s tweets have landed him in hot water.

Musk and Tesla reached a $40 million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission last year over allegations he misled investors with a tweet declaring he had secured financing to buy out the electric car maker. He agreed in the settlement to have future tweets about the company screened.

He went back to court on accusations he violated that agreement by tweeting a misleading figure about how many cars Tesla would manufacture this year. The SEC sought to hold him in contempt of court, which led to a new agreement imposing tighter controls on Musk’s tweets about the company.

The cave drama played out for more than two weeks in summer 2018.

Musk and engineers from his SpaceX rocket company custom-built a mini-submarine, which was heavily publicized but never used.

Unsworth, a diver and caving expert whose advice was considered crucial in the rescue operation, said the sub would never have fit in the cave.

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