April 26 (Reuters) – A California judge on Wednesday tentatively ordered Tesla CEO Elon Musk to be interviewed under oath about whether he made certain statements regarding the safety and capabilities of the carmaker’s Autopilot features.
The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the family of Walter Huang against Tesla in Santa Clara Superior Court, over a car crash which killed the Apple engineer in 2018.
Huang’s family argues Tesla’s partially automated driving software failed. The carmaker contends Huang was playing a videogame on his phone before the crash and disregarded vehicle warnings.
Plaintiff attorneys sought to depose Musk regarding recorded statements that tout the capabilities of Autopilot.
In a 2016 statement cited by plaintiffs, Musk allegedly said: “A Model S and Model X, at this point, can drive autonomously with greater safety than a person. Right now.”
Tesla, however, opposed the request in court filings, arguing that Musk cannot recall details about statements.
In addition Musk, “like many public figures, is the subject of many ‘deepfake’ videos and audio recordings that purport to show him saying and doing things he never actually said or did,” Tesla said.
But Judge Evette Pennypacker tentatively ordered a limited, three-hour deposition where Musk could be asked whether he actually made the statements on the recordings, and called Tesla’s arguments “deeply troubling.”
“Their position is that because Mr. Musk is famous and might be more of a target for deep fakes, his public statements are immune,” Pennypacker wrote, adding that such arguments would allow Musk and other famous people “to avoid taking ownership of what they did actually say and do.”
California judges often issue tentative rulings, which are then finalized after a hearing with few major changes.
Tesla and an attorney for Huang’s family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit is scheduled to go into trial on July 31, adding to growing legal and regulatory scrutiny over Tesla’s Autopilot system.
A California state court jury on Friday found Tesla’s Autopilot feature did not fail in what appeared to be the first trial related to a crash involving the partially automated driving software.