When it comes to legal issues, Elon Musk’s luck just doesn’t seem to run out. After getting a slap on the wrist for committing securities fraud that led to a lot of people losing money last year, Musk has wiggled his way out of another legal conundrum.
The Tesla CEO was cleared of defamation allegations from British cave explorer Vern Unsworth. Unsworth claimed he was branded a pedophile by Elon Musk when called him ‘pedo guy’ in a Tweet.
Elon Musk had repeatedly asserted that the remark was just a flippant insult that meant “creepy old man,” and not a pedophile. The eight-person jury bought Musk’s argument and it took them less an hour to come to the verdict.
Although the verdict went in Musk’s favor, it could have easily gone the other way if Unsworth had a competent lawyer.
Although Musk repeatedly claimed that the tweet was a jibe and not a slanderous assertion, his subsequent actions suggested otherwise. In a furious e-mail to BuzzFeed reporter Ryan Mac, Musk made very specific claims about Unsworth. The Tesla CEO laid into Unsworth, calling him a child rapist who was only travelling to Thailand for a 12 year-old child bride.
The plaintiff’s attorney, Lin Wood, was unable to convince the jury that Musk was referring to Unsworth in the e-mail. But it was pretty easy to verify who Musk was referring to as BuzzFeed specifically e-mailed the Tesla CEO to ask for comment regarding a legal threat made by Wood.
That wasn’t the end of the prosecuting attorney’s incompetent showing though. In addition to the e-mail, Musk had also hired a private investigator to dig up dirt on Unsworth. This clearly indicates that Musk’s insults were indeed slanderous claims. But for some unknown reason, Wood decided not to present this evidence to the jury.
Unsworth and Wood had a contingent fee arrangement. This meant that Wood was supposed to get a fixed percentage of the money paid in the final settlement.
Wood clearly had incentive to get as big a settlement as possible. So he went ahead and suggested an asinine amount of $190 million. The amount was probably off-putting for the jury as it painted Unsworth as a greedy guy looking to score a big payday at Elon Musk’s expense.
To add insult to his client’s injuries and showcase his ineptitude, Wood even posted a tweet congratulating Musk after the trail was over.
The judgment may have restored Elon Musk’s ‘faith in humanity,’ but the Tesla CEO should be thanking his lucky stars. The only reason he was cleared of the allegations was the embarrassing incompetence of the plaintiff’s attorney.