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Judge Throws Out Tesla's Top Gear Libel Lawsuit

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Amidst the Tesla battery problem, comes news of a judgment from the UK courts again dismissing Tesla Motors' complaints and reiterating that Top Gear did nothing libelous or maliciously false in the program's review of the Tesla Roadster.


Sometimes, life is all about timing.

This whole issue goes back to December 2008 when Top Gear aired a mixed review of the Tesla Roadster, praising it for its technological advancement and speed but critiquing it for its range and deficient brakes. Specifically, there was video of the crew pushing one of the two Tesla Roadsters they had into a hanger on the Top Gear test track as Jeremy Clarkson said this:

"This car was really shaping up to be something wonderful but then… (artificial dying motor sounds and music slowing down and stopping)… although Tesla say it was do 200 miles we have worked out that on our track it will run out after just 55 miles and if it does run out it is not a quick job to charge it up again."


These words, and an implication that the brakes failed (which boils down to an argument over whether or not a fuse that makes the brakes harder to use counts as a brake problem), were enough to cause Tesla to run to the courts.

Of course, Top Gear admitted the car they pushed wasn't out of batteries but that it was done for effect and that it is completely true that the car would have run out at 55 miles of track time. Producer Andy Wilman defended their actions by basically saying "Duh, it's a television show" and accusing Tesla of trying to use them for press.

Elon Musk responded by calling the show's actions and his investor's response to it "Fucked up."


In October 2011, almost two years after the show originally aired, British Justice Tugendhat tossed out the libel claim and said that Tesla's lawyers would have to amend their malicious falsehood claim.


They changed it to this:

"There were reasonable grounds to suspect that each of the Claimants [Top Gear] had intentionally and significantly misrepresented the range of the Roadster by claiming that it had a range of about 200 miles in that its true range on the Top Gear track was only 55 miles".


I.E. they're saying that Top Gear they intentionally said something untrue, as opposed to intentionally misrepresenting true facts.

The judge today dismissed this as unreasonable as motorists are aware that cars will perform different under different conditions, such as being on a racing track.


Justice Tugendhat also made mention that what Tesla appears to want is a legal ruling saying Top Gear is a bunch of lying liars who lie, but that "rectification of inaccuracies is not a function of the courts unless that can be achieved in the course of proceedings properly brought to enforce a recognized course of action."

The BBC has jumped on the ruling and released this statement:

We are pleased Mr Justice Tugendhat has ruled in favour of the BBC on both the issues before the court, first in striking out Tesla's libel claim against the BBC; and secondly in describing Tesla's malicious falsehood claim as so "gravely deficient" it too could not be allowed to proceed"


We've contacted Tesla Motors for a statement on this issue but, since they won't return our phone calls or emails, we're not holding our breath.