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London is the capital of the world for so-called “libel tourism” because it’s so much easier to sue there. Do famous automobiles enjoy the same advantage?
Maybe not. On Wednesday, Tesla Motors’ Roadster rode into UK High Court to pursue a defamation lawsuit against the BBC series Top Gear. The popular show featured the automobile wimping out on the race track after its battery died. During a hearing to discuss the matter, a judge decided to put the breaks on the main libel claim.
The reason why the Roadster couldn’t tread all over the BBC wasn’t because the judge determined the car to be a “public figure.”
If this lawsuit was brought in the U.S., that might have been the reason, as Tesla Motors probably wouldn’t have been able to show Top Gear demonstrated “actual malice.” (See the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bose Corp. v. Consumers Union.)
Instead, UK High Court judge Michael Tugendhat had to examine Tesla’s claims that Top Gear presenters misled viewers into believing the car would be inferior on a public road. The automobile manufacturer believed that the show had faked its footage.
For libel purposes, it doesn’t matter.
Tugendhat ruled that it was impossible for viewers to be misled because “no reasonable person could understand that the performance on the [Top Gear] track is capable of a direct comparison with a public road.”
The libel claims have thus run out of battery, but the lawsuit isn’t entirely finished.
The judge is reserving judgment on Tesla’s separate claim that the show promulgated malicious falsehoods about the car’s limited mileage range and shoddy breaks. A decision on that issue will be coming soon. Hopefully, the Roadster is reserving its battery power in case it needs to travel to France.
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