Speed Reads

procedural drama

What to know about the Tesla civil suit against Elon Musk

Jury selection in a civil trial against Elon Musk will begin Tuesday in San Francisco, after the Tesla CEO in 2018 misleadingly suggested via tweet that a $72 billion buyout was on the horizon. That online missive later landed the billionaire in hot water with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, who alleged Musk knew such a deal wasn't poised to materialize. 

Musk and Tesla were each fined $20 million following an SEC investigation into the matter; Musk was also required to give up his seat as company chair for at least three years, NPR reports. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

But investors who owned Tesla stock during the period Aug. 7-17, 2018, later filed a class-action lawsuit against the billionaire, alleging he caused them financial harm with his tweets beginning Aug. 7. Per shareholders, the electric car company's stock prices "swung by roughly $14 billion" during the 10-day period addressed by the lawsuit, NPR summarizes. The judge in the case previously ruled that Musk's tweets were reckless and false — meaning the jury must now decide whether Musk knew they were misleading and if they caused material harm to investors. His defense team has argued that their client was, in fact, planning to take Tesla private, even if his claims about the deal were ultimately inaccurate.

Still, Musk's lawyers will face "an uphill battle" in the trial, especially considering the judge's prior verdict regarding the tweets, securities law professor Jill Fisch told The Wall Street Journal

Depending on the outcome, Musk stands to suffer yet another significant financial blow, added law professor Adam Pritchard, speaking with Bloomberg. "Elon enjoys a good fight," Pritchard said. "He has a lot of money, and is apparently willing to take substantial risks with that money."

The proceedings will also likely shed light on "Musk's management style, given the witness list includes some of Tesla's current and former top executives and board members," like James Murdoch, son of media giant Rupert Murdoch, The Associated Press writes.

Musk is expected to appear on the stand "as early as Wednesday," the Journal writes, and the trial is expected to last about three weeks, per The Guardian.