Tesla CEO and owner Elon Musk won Friday from a closely watched defamation trial as a federal court jury quickly rejected the $190 million claim brought against him by a British cave explorer who Musk had called a “pedo guy” on Twitter.
The unanimous decision by a panel of five women and three men was returned after nearly 45 minutes of discussion on the fourth day of Musk’s testimony. Legal experts say it was the first main defamation suit brought by a private individual over comments on Twitter to be decided by a jury.
The outcome was a win for Musk, whose mercurial behavior in plenty of instances in 2018 came under close inspection from federal regulators and shareholders of Tesla, his Silicon Valley-based EV manufacturer.
The jury’s decision indicates a higher legal threshold for challenging alleged derogatory Twitter remarks, stated Lin Wood, the high-profile trial lawyer who headed the legal team for the plaintiff, Vernon Unsworth.
Other lawyers specializing in defamation agreed the decision shows how the freewheeling nature of social media has altered perceptions of what distinguishes libel punishable in court from casual rhetoric and distortion protected as freedom of speech.
Musk, who had testified during the first two days of the trial in his defense and returned to court Friday to hear closing arguments, exited the courtroom after the decision and stated: “My faith in humanity is restored.”
Outside the courtroom, Unsworth, 64, stated he was left to his defeat. “I accept the jury’s decision and get on with my life.”
Wood stated his client went “toe to toe with a billionaire bully,” repeating a phrase from his summation earlier in court, and showed to reporters that an appeal was uncertain.