Elon Musk Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Lawyers for Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk are pushing back against a defamation lawsuit brought by the British caver Musk called a “pedo guy” on Twitter.

Musk lashed out at Vernon Unsworth on social media last July after both volunteered as part of the rescue of 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in Thailand. The caver gave a critical interview to CNN claiming that a submersible tube Musk designed for the rescue was a “PR stunt” prior to Musk’s since-deleted Tweet calling him a “pedo guy.”

Unsworth sued Musk last year with counsel from high-profile defamation attorney L. Lin Wood claiming that Musk’s Twitter remarks, as well as the tech executive’s email exchange with a journalist at BuzzFeed urging an investigation into the caver’s background, resulted in “worldwide damage” to his reputation.

Musk’s lawyers at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and Hueston Hennigan filed their answer to Unsworth’s complaint on Tuesday and among their arguments is a classic playground rejoinder: You started it.

“Before Mr. Musk had said anything about Unsworth—or even knew who he was—Mr. Unsworth capped off his attacks on Mr. Musk with the terse suggestion that Mr. Musk take the miniature rescue submarine that he and his engineers had invented and built for the rescue and ‘stick it where it hurts’ [during the CNN interview],” wrote Musk’s lawyers.

Musk’s lawyers point out that their client deleted and retracted the “pedo guy” tweet within days of posting it last July. They also contend that Musk’s email correspondence with the BuzzFeed reporter was meant to be off-the-record and that it was published “without Mr. Musk’s knowledge or approval.” The lawyers, who include Quinn’s Alex Spiro and Hueston Hennigan name partner John Hueston, also argue that Unsworth has not suffered reputational harm. They note that in December the queen of England announced that she would be making Unsworth a member of the Order of the British Empire, a chivalrous honor that’s a few steps short of knighthood.

“No, this lawsuit is not about restoring anything Mr. Unsworth claims to have lost,” wrote Musk’s lawyers. “The formerly unknown Mr. Unsworth remains the utterly undamaged Mr. Unsworth. In reality, this case represents Mr. Unsworth’s devious desire to milk the media coverage over what he instigated to reap a financial windfall from Mr. Musk, despite the absence of any injury. Mr. Musk will fight that,” they wrote.

Wood, Unsworth’s lawyer, said Tuesday that the filing “makes clear that Musk is incapable of accepting responsibility for his wrongdoing, preferring to blame others.”

“I actually feel sympathy for the SEC and Musk’s shareholders,” said Wood via email. “Fortunately, Mr. Unsworth does not have to tolerate Musk’s antics and can ask a jury of his peers to teach him a lesson.”

 Read Musk’s answer to the complaint: