A federal judge has ruled that Tesla CEO Elon Musk must face court in a defamation case brought against him by British cave rescuer Vern Unsworth, who Musk called a “pedo guy.”
The New York Times reports that Elon Musk and his legal team received two setbacks this week after a federal judge ruled that Vern Unsworth, the British cave rescuer that Musk accused of being a “pedo guy” is not a public figure making it easier for him to prove defamation. The judge, Stephen V. Wilson of the United States District Court in Los Angeles, also ruled that Musk must face court in the case.
Judge Wilson ordered that a jury trial begin December 3 and denied Musk’s argument that the case should be tossed out as his statement about Unsworth, in which he referred to him as a”pedo guy,” was a throwaway insult and should not have been taken as fact.
Musk further argued that Unsworth was a public figure due to his participation in a high-profile rescue of a youth soccer team stuck ina n underwater cave in Thailand last year. Public figures must meet a high legal bar known as “actual malice” in order to prove defamation, regular individuals do not have to meet this bar.
In his 18-page order, Judge Wilson ruled that Unsworth was a private figure who only needs to meet the lower bar to prove defamation. L. Lin Wood, a lawyer for Mr. Unsworth, stated: “This case creates the ‘perfect storm,’ where a jury is going to tell us what they think about this kind of conduct on social media. If they do what I believe they must under the evidence, the message is going to be strong: ‘Don’t do this,’ and to Musk: ‘Don’t do it again.’”
A lawyer for Mr. Musk, Alex Spiro, commented on the ruling simply stating: “We look forward to the trial.” Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the University of California, Berkeley, school of law, stated that musk would have a harsh fight getting the suit thrown out as Musk is a very well-known figure and accusing someone of being a pedophile is “very damning.”
Chemerinsky stated: “What you have here is, the plaintiff being involved in a tragedy, Elon Musk accusing him of being a pedophile, the plaintiff not really being a public figure and Elon Musk being a huge public figure. I’d be very cautious about generalizing because it’s such a unique set of facts.”