Elon Musk has said his “faith in humanity is restored” after he won a defamation case brought against him for calling a British caving expert a “pedo guy”.
Vernon Unsworth sued the billionaire Tesla founder after they had a Twitter spat during the July 2018 Thailand cave rescue.
Mr Unsworth was left feeling “humiliated, ashamed” by the tweet from Musk, a federal court in California heard.
Mr Musk’s lawyers argued it was no more than a playground insult and did not represent a genuine allegation of paedophilia.
The jury of five women and three men deliberated for less than an hour before finding in favour of Mr Musk.
Speaking outside the court, Mr Unsworth said: “I accept the jury’s verdict, take it on the chin and get on with my life.”
The Briton, who helped in the rescue of 12 boys and their football coach last year, had angered the Tesla boss by calling his effort to help a “PR stunt”.
Mr Musk had sent a mini submarine to the site – which was never used – but Mr Unsworth said the entrepreneur should “stick his submarine where it hurts”.
Mr Musk said he had only meant the term as an insult for a “creepy old man” and wasn’t literally calling the caving expert a paedophile.
However, in a follow-up tweet, Mr Musk told a follower: “Bet ya a signed dollar it’s true.”
Mr Unsworth’s lawyer had suggested the jury award his client $190m (£145m) in damages, including $150m (£114m) as a “hard slap on the wrist”.
Lin Wood said: “What in the world would it take to discourage Elon Musk from ever planting a nuclear bomb in the life of another person?”
Mr Musk, who testified that his stock in Tesla and SpaceX is worth about $20bn (£15bn), told the jury the tweet was an insult provoked by Mr Unsworth and did not qualify as defamation.
He said the phrase “was obviously a flippant insult, and no one interpreted it to mean paedophile”. However, he did apologise for the comments when he appeared in court.
His lawyer, Alex Spiro, mocked Mr Unsworth’s claim that he had been shamed and humiliated and effectively sentenced to a life sentence without parole.
He said Mr Unsworth had been honoured by the Queen and the king of Thailand, had his photo taken with former British prime minister Theresa May, and had been asked to speak at schools and contribute to a children’s book – all showing that no one took Mr Musk’s insult seriously.
Mr Spiro said: “People accused of paedophilia don’t get celebrated by world leaders. Kings and queens and prime ministers don’t stand next to paedophiles.”