Friday’s decision was down to one thing. The jury of college-educated Californians simply not feel that Mr Unsworth’s reputation had been damaged. And whether we like it or not, a lot of that has to do with his residence in Thailand and the bias in liberal circles not only towards the kingdom but particularly to westerners who opt to live here.

The world of 64-year-old Vern Unsworth caved in after a  Los Angeles jury on Friday delivered a crushing blow to what most legal experts thought was a watertight case for defamation against the billionaire Elon Musk who last year labelled him a ‘pedo guy’ in a tweet that instantaneously became a worldwide sensation just after the UK man had worked on the inspirational rescue of a Thai boy’s soccer team and their coach in Chiang Rai.

A shaken looking vern Unsworth outside the courthouse in Los Angeles on Friday afternoon after the young and college educated jury of 5 women and 3 men returned a unanimous verdict that he was not defamed when referred to by Elon Musk on Twitter last year as ‘pedo guy’ and a creepy old man. The decision leaves Mr Unsworth now exposed to the legal costs from both sides of the case.

On Friday, Lin Wood, a lawyer for Vernon Unsworth, the 64-year-old UK man who had sued billionaire and entrepreneur Elon Musk in Los Angeles for defamation warned that social media was a threat to society and that ‘everyone should be concerned for their reputations’ after a jury of 5 women and 3 men dismissed his client’s case for defamation against the billionaire after it deliberated for one hour on Friday afternoon.

Huge blow to Mr Unsworth personally and financially

The move is a huge personal blow to Mr Unsworth who will now be left exposed for the costs of the legal action including those of Mr Musk. There is no word yet on whether Mr Unsworth and his legal are minded to appeal the decision.

The events of the trial moved swiftly towards a conclusion on Friday as the judge moved to have the case sit through lunch so that it could be handed to the jury by 2 pm. An hour later and the world of Mr Unsworth had caved in.

Hero of cave rescue mission forced to take proceedings against the US billionaire

During the course of the trial, Mr Unsworth when giving evidence had pointed out that he was forced to take the defamation case after Mr Musk in an irate tweet on the social network Twitter labelled him as a ‘pedo guy’ which instantaneously made worldwide news after being transmitted to Mr Musk’s 30 million Twitter fans.

Mr Unsworth said that if he had not taken legal action, the aspersion on his character would have lingered.

Key reason may be a virulent bias towards westerners living in Thailand based on stereotypes

As legal experts and media watchers debate the reason for the shock result of the trial, a key factor in the result is the unspoken and taboo subject of the virulent bias towards western foreigners living in Thailand and the kingdom itself across the western world but particularly in liberal American states.

Unfortunately, it has to be accepted that there is a stigma attached to Thailand over its long association in the consciousness of many living in western countries with the sex industry and also in the kinds of the majority of western people, paedophilia.

Mr Musk himself exemplified this attitude and particularly last year when he sent an intelligence briefing to the US news website Buzzfeed on how they should go about investigating Mr Unsworth, the hero of Tham Luang.

Mr Musk suggested that any western foreigner who regularly visited Thailand was suspicious and that various parts of the kingdoms were associated with paedophilia. This is a very strong stereotype that exists in western countries.

The result in LA on Friday ads legitimacy to such thinking, even though the case only centred around the social media tweet. The delinking of the email sent to Buzzfeed by Mr Musk and the social media tweet led to Friday’s result.

Young jury with a majority of women and all college-educated rejected Vern Unsworth’s case

It is not insignificant that the jury that rendered the verdict contained more women than men and that the age profile was younger.

All of the 8 jurists were college-educated and one of them is reported to be the proud owner of two Tesla cars.

Growing body of legal opinion which treats social media comments as casual utterances

However, there are other factors at play such as a growing body of jurisprudence which terms tweets or social media commentary as ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ as one judge described the comments of the US President Donald Trump on a spat over the Stormy Daniels affair in which the US President described the machinations of the stip dancer and her lawyer as a ‘con job’ while openly defending himself in the social media universe.

Initially, the case was reported to be for limited damages but the final demand was for $190 million

Initially, when Mr Unsworth launched his defamation case against the US billionaire it was for limited damages caused by the tweet. At one point, a figure of $70,000 was mentioned.

However, in the closing days of the trial, his legal team including attorney Lin Wood brought forth a claim which amounted to $190 million in damages. 

Lawyers for Mr Unsworth revealed their claim as the case near its end and requested $5 million in actual damages, $35 in assumed damages and a further $150 million in punitive damages.

Musk told the jury in evidence his access to cash did not match his estimated business fortune

This was presented to the jury as a way to punish the US tech entrepreneur estimated to worth $20 billion for his involvement in SpaceX and Tesla Motor Car company. Mr Musk had earlier while giving evidence, estimated his net worth at this level but told the jury he did not have access to that amount of cash.

Mr Unsworth’s legal team failed spectacularly in analysing the thinking and attitudes of this district court jury on Friday.

The result as required by the law under Californian law was a unanimous dismissal of the case against Mr Musk.

Divide opinion on Musk but to many, he is an entrepreneurial hero who is a pioneer

However, while Mr Musk is the subject of divided opinion, he is seen by many young people, particularly on the liberal side of the US political divide but with supporters across the spectrum, as a hero for his pioneering ventures. 

Last week, in the course of the trial, he finally offered an apology for his tweets which in the aftermath of the result on Friday Mr Unsworth’s team described as less than sincere.

Unworth recognised as a hero by world leaders

Mr Unsworth has been recognised by world leaders including the Queen of England and the King of Thailand for his championing role in the historical rescue of the 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach for the Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai in July last year.

Duke of Cambridge discussed the case with Unsworth

He was awarded an MBE in the New Year’s honours list for 2019 and received his award at Buckingham Palace in June from Prince William.

In the course of the trial this week, he mentioned that the Duke of Cambridge had brought up the case against Mr Musk.

Mr Unsworth was also asked about his personal life explaining that he was married to a UK woman, his former wife Vannessa from 1993 until 2007 with whom he has a twenty-four-year-old daughter. He moved to Thailand after his marriage began to fail and met his current Thai girlfriend ‘Tik’ in 2013.

Tham Luang film recently released – The Cave

A blockbuster film, The Cave, directed by acclaimed movie director Tom Waller and Allen Liu was released on November 21st detailing the events of the rescue which gripped the world’s imagination for weeks last year.

The story was an inspiring one that showed Thailand in a new positive light particularly as the rescue involved teams from many countries including the United States and the United Kingdom cooperating to rescue the Thai boys and their teacher.

Controversy sprang from a CNN interview

The controversy between Mr Unsworth and Mr Musk began during a CNN interview with Mr Unsworth in which he pointedly took a jab at Mr Musk’s participation in the rescue effort. 

Mr Musk had come with a team of engineers to Thailand and developed a submersible vehicle which he aspired to use in rescuing the boys. It was an option not ultimately pursued by Thai authorities.

However, Mr Unsworth told the CNN interviewer that Mr Musk’s efforts were nothing but a PR campaign and made a provocative and disdainful suggestion on what Mr Musk could do with his mini-sub.

Strong response from Mr Musk on Twitter

Mr Unsworth’s comments and attitude provoked a strong response from Mr Musk who then tweeted his reference to him as a ‘pedo guy’ and also described him as a creepy old man.

Later, Mr Musk sent a private detective at a reported cost of over $50,000 to Thailand to prepare a file on Mr Unsworth’s links with the kingdom and sent a file to the news website Buzzfeed in the United States with the suggestion that they should investigate Mr Unsworth’s personal life in the country. 

Mr Musk seemed certain that they would find something highly unsavoury in his interactions with reporters at the website which later developed into acrimony.

The dossier that Mr Musk presented to the news outlet contained nothing more than speculation and innuendo which Mr Musk hoped they would act on.

Vern Insworth’s 41-year Thai girlfriend described him as a ‘selfless’ man well loved in Chiang Rai

This provoked a response from Mr Unsworth’s 41-year-old Thai girlfriend, Woranan Ratrawiphukkun, also known as ‘Tik’ with whom he has lived happily in Thailand for the last 7 years saying that Mr Unsworth was a ‘selfless’ man and that he was loved by those around and near him in Chaing Rai, a beautiful northern Thai province.

Indeed, the admiration for Mr Unsworth not only in Thailand but throughout the world was used this week very effectively at the trial to negate the claim that Mr Musk’s comments on social media had caused him damage.

Musk’s defence used the high opinion of Mr Unsworth to show he had not been damaged by the tweet

Alex Spiro, a lawyer for Mr Musk told the jury: ‘People accused of paedophilia don’t get celebrated by world leaders.’ The lawyer claimed: ‘Kings and queens and prime ministers don’t stand next to paedophiles.’

Consternation in legal circles following the verdict 

Following Mr Musk’s legal victory in LA on Friday, there has been speculation over what the jury verdict means for future defamation cases in the United States which is a highly litigious society.

Most legal experts were confounded by the decision based on the prior direction of pretrial motions and past outcomes.

It appears that Mr Musk in his insistence on defending what many considered an unwinnable case may have also inadvertently changed the legal landscape as he had done with the payments, motoring and space industry in his business career.

May boil down to such factors as the likeability of both men as perceived by the jury in the case

However, other legal observers have suggested that it simply boiled down to the jury, the personal profiles and the likeability of both men in the case.

In the immediate aftermath of the verdict, Musk was clearly delighted and told reporters that his faith in humanity had been restored by the decision.

Previously, on entering the courthouse he refused to engage with the media while Mr Unsworth said a brief ‘Good Morning’ to the press posse. It was not to be a good afternoon for him, however.

Meanwhile, Vern Unsworth had previously retained a solicitor in London to act on his behalf on this matter and there is also now a suggestion that legal action against Mr Musk may be initiated in Thailand.

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Further reading:

Elon Musk in court bid to have the case against him filed by UK man Vern Unsworth thrown out

Vern Unsworth sues Elon Musk in Los Angeles court while UK proceedings are also pending and being prepared

Wild Boar soccer team become millionaires after signing deal with Netflix for Tham Luang story

Vern Unsworth loses the legal case against Musk in LA

+ Vern Unsworth loses his legal case against Musk in LA, considering suits in the UK and Thailand – young jury unanimous that the UK man was not defamed by 'pedo' tweet. Boonkong reports from LA

Posted by on Saturday, December 7, 2019