Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, may be required to testify under oath in a lawsuit that blames Tesla’s Autopilot, an advanced driver assistance system, for a fatal crash in 2018. The family of Walter Huang, the Apple engineer who died in the crash, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Tesla. The plaintiff attorneys want to bring Musk to court to testify on recorded statements he made about the capabilities of Autopilot.
Musk previously tweeted a promotional video for Autopilot in 2016 as evidence that Tesla “drives itself” with “no human input at all.” However, in January, the 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 compute power to actually drive autonomously.
Huang’s family alleges that the deceased over-relied on the partially automated driving software, which ultimately failed him. Tesla claims that Huang was playing a video game on his phone before the crash and didn’t pay attention to vehicle warnings.
A hearing was scheduled for Thursday on whether to depose Musk. Reuters reports that Musk will likely be questioned about a 2016 statement in which he allegedly said: “A Model S and Model X, at this point, can drive autonomously with greater safety than a person. Right now.”
Tesla’s lawyers have opposed the request in court filings. They said Musk can’t recall the details of statements plaintiffs want to question him on, and that he is often the subject of “deepfake” videos. Judge Evette Pennypacker of Santa Clara Superior Court said Tesla’s arguments were “deeply troubling” because they imply that as a famous person, Musk is more of a target for deepfakes, which would make his public statements immune.
The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial on July 31. It will add to the growing list of litigation and regulatory scrutiny into the automaker for its Autopilot system, which includes a criminal investigation from the U.S. Department of Justice. However, Tesla had a significant win in court last week over a similar case. A Tesla owner sued the company in 2020, claiming that her Model S swerved into a curb while on Autopilot and an airbag deployed so violently as to cause medical damage. A jury in Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that the Autopilot feature did not fail.
Tesla disbanded its press office in 2020, so TechCrunch could not get a comment from the company. This case highlights the potential dangers of relying too heavily on autonomous driving technology and the legal and regulatory challenges that come with it.