The court trial to decide whether a tweet Elon Musk sent in 2018 cost Tesla investors millions of dollars will resume Friday, with Musk himself potentially taking the stand.
Tesla shareholders are suing the company to recoup losses they say they suffered amid Musk’s claims that he had “secured” money to take the company private at $420 per share.
Had the plan ultimately materialized, people who owned shares of Tesla at the time could have earned profits on their holdings. But when it became clear there was no take-private deal, shares of Tesla stock began a steady decline that continued into the following year.
On Wednesday, Alex Spiro, an attorney for Musk, Tesla’s CEO, called the 2018 tweet “a split-second decision” meant to show Musk was being transparent about discussions that had occurred with Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund about a potential deal.
“He didn’t plan to tweet this,” Spiro said.
Nicholas Porritt, an attorney representing lead plaintiff Glen Littleton, 71, of Kansas City, Missouri, and other shareholders, alleged that Musk defrauded them.
“His lies caused regular people like Glen Littleton to lose millions and millions of dollars,” Porritt said, adding that the tweet also hurt pension funds.
After the trial adjourned Wednesday, Porritt told The Associated Press he hopes to call Musk to the stand Friday after two other witnesses testify. If the allotted time runs out, Musk would most likely testify Monday, Porritt said.
It is not the first time Musk has been sued over his discourse on Twitter. He won a defamation suit in 2019 brought by Vernon Unsworth, a diver whom Musk called “pedo guy” on the platform as Unsworth helped rescue a stranded soccer team from a flooded cave in Thailand.
Musk could not be reached for comment.
The trial is unusual because most class-action shareholder suits are dismissed or settled. In this case, Musk and his attorneys say they believe they can convince a jury his tweets about making Tesla a private company again were made in good faith.
Littleton told the nine-person San Francisco jury that Musk’s claim about the financing alarmed him. According to his testimony, Littleton had purchased Tesla investments designed to reward him for his belief that the automaker’s stock would eventually be worth far more than the $420 per share that Musk claimed would be the price at which the company would go private.
Littleton said he sold most of his holdings to cut his losses but still saw the value of his Tesla portfolio plunge by 75%.
“The damage was done,” Littleton said. “I was in a state of shock.”
Associated Press contributed.