In a lawsuit that blames Autopilot, Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system, for a fatal crash in 2018, Tesla CEO Elon Musk might be ordered to testify under oath.
The tentative ruling, issued by a California judge on Wednesday and first reported by Reuters, was part of a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Walter Huang against Tesla in the aftermath of the crash that killed the Apple engineer.
The Plaintiff’s attorneys want Musk to testify in court about recorded statements he made about Autopilot’s capabilities.
Musk had previously tweeted a 2016 promotional video for Autopilot as evidence that Tesla “drives itself” with “no human input at all.” In January, Ashok Elluswamy, director of Autopilot software at Tesla, testified that the video was staged using 3D mapping on a predetermined route, rather than relying on cameras, sensors, and onboard computing power to actually drive autonomously.
Huang’s family claims that the deceased relied too heavily on the partially automated driving software, which ultimately failed him. Tesla claims Huang was distracted by a video game on his phone prior to the crash and failed to notice vehicle warnings.
A hearing to determine whether Musk should be deposed has been scheduled for Thursday.
According to Reuters, Musk will most likely be questioned about a 2016 statement cited by plaintiffs in which he allegedly stated: “A Model S and Model X, at this point, can drive autonomously with greater safety than a person. Right now.”
Tesla’s lawyers have filed court documents opposing the request. According to Reuters, they claim Musk can’t recall the specifics of statements plaintiffs want to question him about, and that he is frequently the subject of “deepfake” videos.
Tesla’s arguments, according to Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Evette Pennypacker, are “deeply troubling” because they imply that Musk, as a famous person, is more of a target for deep fakes, making his public statements immune. As a result, Musk and other famous people may be able to avoid taking responsibility for what they say and do in the future.
The case is set to go to trial on July 31. It will add to the growing list of lawsuits and regulatory investigations into the automaker’s Autopilot system, which already includes a criminal investigation by the US Department of Justice.
Having said that, Tesla recently won a significant legal victory in a similar case. In 2020, a Tesla owner sued the company, claiming that her Model S swerved into a curb while on Autopilot, and an airbag deployed violently, causing medical damage. In Los Angeles Superior Court, a jury determined that the Autopilot feature did not fail.