Elon Musk to face trial over 'pedo guy' tweets after court denies motion to dismiss defamation lawsuit

Key Points
  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk is headed to court over a defamation lawsuit brought against him by British rescue diver Vernon Unsworth.
  • A Los Angeles judge ordered the jury trial to begin Dec. 3.
  • Unsworth sued Musk in 2018 for libel and slander after Musk referred to the diver as a "pedo guy" and a "child rapist."
SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk gestures during a conversation at the E3 gaming convention in Los Angeles, June 13, 2019.
Mike Blake | Reuters

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is headed to court to answer a defamation lawsuit filed by a British rescue diver he called a "pedo guy."

U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson in Los Angeles denied Musk's request to throw out the case, according to court documents made public Tuesday. Wilson ordered the jury trial to begin Dec. 3.

Attorneys for rescue diver Vernon Unsworth didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Musk's attorney, Alex Spiro, said in a statement: "We look forward to the trial."

Musk lawyers argued that the case should be tossed because his statements were insults rather than allegations, so they didn't constitute defamation. In his motion for summary judgment, Musk also asserted that Unsworth should be considered a public figure due to his involvement in the cave rescue of a trapped Thai boys soccer team — a claim Wilson denied in Tuesday's ruling.

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Since the judge ruled Unsworth is a private figure, Unsworth will have a lower burden of proof in his defamation claims. Unsworth has to prove only that Musk was negligent for failing to check that statements made in his tweets were true, instead of proving Musk acted with actual malice, or publishing statements he knew to be false.

Unsworth sued Musk in 2018 after the pair were locked in a heated back-and-forth for weeks. The altercation erupted after Unsworth criticized Musk's efforts to send a submarine to help rescue the team from a cave in Thailand where they were trapped. In response, Musk called Unsworth a "pedo guy" on Twitter and a "child rapist" in an email to a BuzzFeed reporter.

In a court deposition released in September, Musk said he worried Unsworth might be "another Jeffrey Epstein." The documents also showed Musk's representatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on a private investigator to dig up details on Unsworth.

The Unsworth case is one of several legal actions faced by Tesla and its mercurial CEO in the last few years. The company is also fighting a lawsuit from shareholders upset over its acquisition of SolarCity in 2016, and recently settled a suit with Walmart after Tesla solar panels on several stores caught fire.

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