Tesla and SpaceX chief Elon Musk was hit with a defamation lawsuit Monday by the British cave explorer Vernon Unsworth, a man Musk referred to as a “pedo guy” on Twitter in the wake of the rescue of a youth soccer team from a cave in Thailand.
Unsworth and Musk both volunteered time to the rescue of 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach, who were stranded in a flooded cave earlier this summer. Musk, however, lashed out on Twitter on July 15 after Unsworth gave a critical interview to CNN, claiming that a submersible tube Musk designed in hopes of contributing to the rescue effort was a “PR stunt.”
“Never saw this British expat guy who lives in Thailand (sus) at any point when we were in the caves,” wrote Musk, in part in a now-deleted Twitter message, before challenging Unsworth to provide video of the final rescue. “Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it,” he added.
Musk later deleted the “pedo guy” tweet and apologized on Twitter on July 18. But according to Unsworth’s lawsuit, filed in the Central District of California by high-profile defamation lawyer L. Lin Wood, Musk continued to press his allegations that Unsworth was a pedophile with a journalist from Buzzfeed, which resulted in further coverage.
“As one of the highest-profile and wealthiest individuals in the world, Musk knew that these accusations against Mr. Unsworth would be conveyed to a worldwide audience and would result in the accusations receiving massive publicity,” wrote Wood, who was joined on the complaint by other lawyers at his Atlanta-based law firm and Robert Christopher Chatham of the Chatham Law Group in Los Angeles.
Representatives from Tesla didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment and, as of the time of publication, Musk had yet to respond to the lawsuit via a tweet.
The suit seeks recovery for the “worldwide damage” Unsworth suffered to his reputation with the exception of Wales and England. Unsworth is represented in the U.K. by Mark Stephens of Howard Kennedy, and Monday’s complaint says a separate lawsuit will be pursued in the High Court of London.
Reached by email Monday, Wood said that Stephens brought him onto the case. “Elon Musk falsely accused Vernon Unsworth of being guilty of heinous crimes,” Wood said. “Musk’s influence and wealth cannot convert his lies into truth or protect him from accountability for his wrongdoing in a court of law.”
Unsworth’s suit isn’t the first to target Musk’s Twitter activity. His defamation suit comes after a short-seller filed a securities class action against Musk and Tesla earlier this month. The securities suit accuses Musk of manipulating the price of Tesla stock with tweets about his plans to take the company private. Musk and Tesla are represented in the securities lawsuit by a team from Fenwick & West.
Read the defamation lawsuit below: