Elon Musk will temporarily not have to testify in a lawsuit in which Tesla Inc’s Autopilot is blamed for the fatal crash that killed an Apple software engineer. On Thursday, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Evette Pennypacker granted Tesla’s request to shield Musk from questioning. But she said the ruling was contingent on the automaker’s written responses to questions from lawyers for the deceased driver’s family about the allegations against Autopilot by the company and its chief executive.
Pennypacker said the family of Walter Huang, whose family died in a March 2018 crash while using Autopilot in his Model X, had to try “less invasive” ways to obtain The information it’s looking for to build a case.
Plaintiffs suing Tesla in a series of Autopilot crashes have yet to sworn Musk, who supports autonomous driving as the way of the future, to answer questions.
A judge in Florida ruled last year that CEOs don’t have to testify in a separate case stemming from the 2019 death of Jeremy Banner, 50, who crashed his Tesla Model 3. A semi truck died while on the bottom of a Florida highway intersection.
Doris Cheng, an attorney representing the family, told the judge that unless the billionaire entrepreneur was removed from office, there was no way to know whether there was data to support Tesla and Musk’s public statements about Autopilot’s capabilities. So far, neither the former nor the current Tesla engineer in question has been able to answer the core of the negligence claims in the lawsuit, Cheng said.
That’s “simply not true,” Tesla’s attorney, Tom Branigan, told the hearing. The engineers were fired for a long time and answered “questions about the design and development of Autopilot from start to finish,” he said.
In October, Bloomberg reported that prosecutors from the U.S. Justice Department’s Washington and San Francisco offices and investigators from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission were investigating whether the company made misleading statements about its vehicles’ self-driving capabilities.
A trial in the Huang case is scheduled for 31 July. If it goes to trial before the Banner case, in which the judge has set a summer time frame but has not yet scheduled a specific date, it will be the first trial involving an Autopilot crash.
The case is Huang v. Tesla, Inc., 19CV346663, in Santa Clara County Superior Court.
First published date: Feb 24, 2023 at 11:59 AM CST