Elon Musk did not defame a British caver who helped in last year’s rescue of trapped Thai schoolboys by calling him a “pedo guy”, a US jury has found.
Vernon Unsworth sought $190m (£145m) in damages from the Tesla founder, arguing that the tweet damaged his reputation.
A public row broke out between the two men over the rescue of 12 boys trapped in a Thai cave in June 2018.
Mr Musk told the court this week the phrase “pedo guy” was common in South Africa, where he grew up.
Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom after the jury reached its decision, Mr Musk said: “My faith in humanity is restored.”
Mr Unsworth’s lawyer Lin Wood said their side would leave the court “with our heads held high” but that the decision was “not a good verdict for society”.
“This verdict sends a signal, and one signal only – that you can make any accusation you want to, as vile as it may be and as untrue as it may be, and somebody can get away with it,” he said.
The case had been closely watched as it was seen as testing the legal threshold in the US for defamatory material on social media.
Appearing dejected, Mr Unsworth himself added: “I respect the jury’s decision. I’d just like to say my legal team have been absolutely awesome. I came here for a verdict, unfortunately it’s not gone the way I expected but I respect the jury’s decision and thank them for that.”
Jurors took less than an hour to return their unanimous verdict, following a four-day trial at a federal court in Los Angeles.
Jury foreman Joshua Jones said Mr Unsworth’s legal team were unable to prove their case and should have focused more on the evidence.
“I think they tried to get our emotions involved in it,” he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.
What was the row about?
Mr Unsworth, an experienced 64-year-old cave explorer, splits his time between the UK and Thailand.
During the rescue of the young football team, which captured the world’s attention, Mr Unsworth helped recruit expert cave divers who were instrumental in freeing the boys safely.
Mr Musk sent Tesla engineers and a small submarine to northern Thailand to help with the rescue effort, but the vessel was never used.
Instead, he and Mr Unsworth got into a public war of words after the diver branded the offer of help a “PR stunt”.
During an interview with CNN, the diver suggested the billionaire “stick his submarine where it hurts”.
Mr Musk, who now has nearly 30 million followers, responded with a series of tweets about Mr Unsworth – including the one calling him “pedo guy”. It was later deleted.