British caver seeks $190mn from Elon Musk for 'pedo guy' slur

British cave diver Vernon Unsworth arrives at US District Court in Los Angeles, California on December 3, 2019 with his attorney Lin Wood (R)

A British diver on Friday asked a jury to award him $190 million for defamation over a tweet in which tech billionaire Elon Musk labeled him "pedo guy."

Vernon Unsworth is seeking $150 million in punitive damages, as well as $40 million for assumed and actual damages, arising from the 2018 tweet.

His attorney, Lin Wood, told jurors in Los Angeles federal court that such an award would amount to "a hard slap on the wrist" for Musk and would prevent him "from ever planting a nuclear bomb in the life of another individual."

Describing the 48-year-old entrepreneur as a "billionaire bully," Wood in his 90-minute closing argument said Unsworth was a man of modest means whose life had been upended by the much-publicized row.

Musk's outburst against Unsworth followed an interview in which the 64-year-old British caver dismissed the Tesla co-founder's offer of a mini-submarine to rescue soccer players trapped in a cave in Thailand in July 2018.

Unsworth at the time said Musk's offer was nothing but a PR stunt -- a claim he maintained during the trial -- and had suggested he "stick his submarine where it hurts."

In court testimony, Musk said the "pedo guy" tweet he shared with his 22 million followers was an off-the-cuff insult and did not mean he was accusing Unsworth -- a financial consultant who shares his time between Britain and Thailand -- of being a pedophile.

He apologized on Twitter for his outburst and again during his testimony.

He insisted during questioning that he was simply reacting to Unsworth's "unprovoked" comments and claimed that "pedo guy" was a term widely used in South Africa, where he grew up.

Musk's attorney Alex Spiro told jurors in his closing argument Friday that the case boils down to "an argument between two people," and argued that Unsworth was trying to profit from the row.

"This was just an insult," Spiro said. "Plaintiff is taking one of those insults and putting it in the spotlight."

The attorney insisted that it was Unsworth who picked a fight and his client had simply pushed back with a tweet he later regretted.

"Elon Musk doesn't like that tweet, shareholders don't like the tweet, Elon Musk's mom doesn't like the tweet," Spiro said while underlining that nowhere was the word pedophile mentioned specifically.

The jury began deliberating following closing arguments and was expected to reach a verdict later Friday.