LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge in Los Angeles denied Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s bid to duck a defamation lawsuit by British cave diver whom Musk called a pedophile on Twitter.
British cave diver Vernon Unsworth’s lawsuit stems from a series of tweets Musk wrote in which he called Unsworth a “pedo” or pedophile shortly after 12 boys and their coach were rescued from a cave in Thailand last July with the help of Unsworth and other foreign rescuers and the Thai navy SEAL team.
Musk offered to assist in the rescue operation with a small submarine built by engineers from SpaceX and while the vehicle was shipped to the rescue site it was never used by rescuers. Unsworth criticized Musk on CNN in July and called Musk’s involvement “a PR stunt.”
He added: “(Musk) can stick his submarine somewhere where it hurts.”
U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson said from the bench Friday he would deny Musk’s motion to dismiss Unworth’s defamation lawsuit against the tech billionaire. A written order had not been issued by press time.
Unsworth’s attorney L. Lin Wood said in an email that the legal team will refrain from commenting until the full order is issued but they are “extremely pleased with the denial and I look forward to speaking with Musk under oath about his false, heinous accusations against Mr. Unsworth.”
From June 24 through July 8, 2018, Unsworth was involved in the pre-rescue operations, and for two days after helped rescue the boys with over “a hundred divers and countless other individuals who were able to design and implement pumps to extricate what is reported to have been billions of liters of water” from the cave, according to the lawsuit.
After Unsworth criticized Musk, the billionaire said of Unsworth on Twitter: “He’s an old, single white guy from England who’s been traveling or living in Thailand for 30 to 40 years,” adding Unsworth moved to Thailand “for a child bride who was about 12 years old at the time.”
In his motion to dismiss, Musk said his over-the-top insults are not statements of fact and Musk’s 22.5 million Twitter followers understand it was meant to be hyperbole.
“The more colorful the invective, the more likely the reader is to understand that it is opinion,” Musk said in the motion. “Internet insults are particularly likely to be construed as opinion.”
This is not the first time a tweet has landed the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX in hot water.
The Securities and Exchange Commission secured a $20 million settlement last year against Tesla and Musk over a misleading series of tweets in which Musk claimed he was taking Tesla private with a $420 share price, which was higher than the price of Tesla stock at the time. Musk claimed the move was all but a done deal and was only awaiting a shareholder vote.
This past March, the judge in the SEC case threatened to hold Musk in contempt for a tweet in which he fluffed the number of cars Tesla will make in 2019.
On Friday, Musk and the SEC agreed Musk can keep his Twitter account but must get all securities-related tweets OK’d by an “experienced securities lawyer.”