LOS ANGELES - A British diver deserves to be paid for emotional pain and suffering he felt after Elon Musk called him a pedophile on Twitter, the man's attorney told a Los Angeles civil jury on Tuesday, but a lawyer for the billionaire Tesla chief suggested that the insult was a joke that may have contained a grain of truth.
Vern Unsworth filed suit last year after Musk called him a "pedo guy" in a Twitter post and referred to him in email messages to a reporter as a "child rapist" who married a 12-year-old Thai girl.
In his opening statement to the eight-member jury, Taylor Wilson, an Unsworth attorney, alleged that his client's reputation had been ruined and his heroic efforts in saving the trapped soccer team had been overtaken by the slanderous comments.
However, Alex Spiro, one of Musk's lawyers, said that although the tweet was merely a "joke," Musk had determined that Unsworth was "up to no good in Thailand. ... There is a little bit more to the story than an insult on Twitter."
Musk's tweet came days after a CNN interview in which Unsworth, who was part of the 2018 rescue of a youth soccer team and its coach from a cave in Thailand, criticized the miniature submarine the tech tycoon sent to help with the rescue, calling the effort a publicity stunt.
In the interview, Unsworth said Musk could "stick his submarine where it hurts."
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and a judge's order stopping Musk from making further allegations.
Musk is expected to testify during the estimated five-day trial in Los Angeles federal court.
The eight-member civil jury was chosen from a pool of 40 people called to the courthouse early Tuesday.
In October, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson rejected Musk's motion to dismiss Unsworth's claims, telling attorneys that "malice" would play a part in the libel trial. The judge also allowed the "child rapist" comment emailed to a BuzzFeed reporter to be used to show Musk's "state of mind" at the time.
Musk argued in court filings that he made the "pedo guy" insult as a joke, claiming he was sorry and explaining that the phrase was used frequently where he grew up in South Africa.