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 of the trial was a triumph for Musk, whose mercurial behavior 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 trial verdict puts everyone’s reputation at risk,” Wood told reporters after the verdict was announced.
Other lawyers specializing 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 and hyperbole protected as free speech.
Musk, 48, who had testified during the first two days of the trial in his own defense and returned to court on Friday to hear closing arguments, exited the courtroom after the verdict and said: “My faith in humanity is restored.”