Elon Musk is officially heading to trial after a federal judge declined his last request to toss out a defamation case brought by Vern Unsworth, the heroic cave diver that Musk famously referred to as "pedo guy" on Twitter.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson ruled on Monday that a jury will have to decide whether or not Musk was negligent for failing to check the accuracy of his statements before he made them to his over 20 million Twitter followers and a journalist, according to the LA Times.
The judge tossed the idea of Musk having a free speech defense, ruling that the statements did not have any basis in any public controversy involving Unsworth. Unsworth's lawyer, L. Lin Wood said after the hearing that "the burden of proof for negligence is lower than that for actual malice".
This means that Unsworth will only have to convince the jury by a preponderance of the evidence, rather than clear and convincing evidence, making it easier for the panel to find Musk liable for defamation, Wood said.
Punitive damages could come as a result of the jury finding that Musk acted with malice, according to Wood.
Musk's attorney, Alex Spiro, said: “We look forward to the trial. We understand that, while Musk has apologized, Unsworth would like to milk his 15 minutes of fame.”
Judge Wilson was not convinced that Musk's allegations of pedophilia were relevant as to whether or not Musk's submarine would have worked in the rescue, stating to Musk's lawyer: “You’re saying his being a pedophile is germane to the issue whether Musk had sincere motivation. That seems a bit of a stretch.”
The judge is expected to issue a written ruling soon.
Musk's spat with Unsworth started famously, after Unsworth referred to Musk's proposed Thai cave rescue submarine as a "PR stunt" and told Musk, via a CNN interview, that he could stick his proposed solution "where it hurts". Musk responded by calling Unsworth "pedo guy" in a Tweet, before referring to him as a "child rapist" in an email that Musk thought was "off the record" with a Buzzfeed reporter. The email was not off the record, and Buzzfeed subsequently released Musk's e-mail to the public.
Recall, toward the beginning of the month, we wrote about Musk referring to himself as a "fucking idiot" for e-mailing his unverified information about Unsworth to Buzzfeed.