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Elon Musk victorious in defamation trial

The jury’s decision signals a higher legal threshold for challenging potentially libellous Twitter comments

By Reuters in Los Angeles

  • Published 8.12.19, 12:16 AM
  • Updated 8.12.19, 3:14 AM
The unanimous verdict by a panel of five women and three men was returned after roughly 45 minutes of deliberation on the fourth day of Musk’s trial
The unanimous verdict by a panel of five women and three men was returned after roughly 45 minutes of deliberation on the fourth day of Musk’s trial File picture

Tesla Inc boss Elon Musk emerged victorious on Friday from a closely watched defamation trial as a federal court jury swiftly rejected the $190 million claim brought against him by a British cave explorer who Musk had branded a “pedo guy” on Twitter.

The unanimous verdict by a panel of five women and three men was returned after roughly 45 minutes of deliberation on the fourth day of Musk’s trial. Legal experts believe it was the first major defamation lawsuit brought by a private individual over remarks on Twitter to be decided by a jury.

The outcome was a triumph for Musk, whose mercurial behaviour in a number of instances last year came under close scrutiny from federal regulators and shareholders of Tesla, his Silicon Valley-based electric car manufacturer.

The jury’s decision signals a higher legal threshold for challenging potentially libelous Twitter comments, said L. Lin Wood, the high-profile trial lawyer who led the legal team for the plaintiff, Vernon Unsworth.

“This verdict puts everyone’s reputation at risk,” Wood told reporters after the verdict was announced.

Other lawyers specialising in defamation agreed the verdict reflects how the freewheeling nature of social media has altered understandings of what distinguishes libel punishable in court from casual rhetoric.

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