Space Travel and Legal Liability
The Future of Space Travel Accident Litigation and Insurance Claims
The Florida Senate has given its approval to a measure that grants liability protection for suborbital space travel passengers and staff. This legislation aims to shield aerospace companies from civil lawsuits in case passengers are injured or killed during space travel. The recently approved SB 1318 would provide limited immunity from personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits if it passes the House and is signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis. The intention behind this legislation is to attract aerospace companies and create job opportunities in Florida.
A professor of law and director of the Global Space Law Center at Cleveland State University College of Law explained that the purpose of this legislation is to attract suborbital space flight industry, not companies like SpaceX, which primarily focuses on orbital and lunar missions. He highlights that suborbital and orbital space travel are distinct, with SpaceX using more advanced and powerful rockets like the Starship.
The proposed Spaceflight Entity Liability defines the term ‘crew,’ exempts spaceflight entities from liability for crew member injuries or death resulting from spaceflight activities, and mandates that spaceflights require crew members to sign a specific warning statement. However, it remains to be seen whether these waivers will be upheld by courts under the law.
The professor raises the question of whether laypeople truly understand the risks and challenges associated with space flight, including the mechanical complexities and potential dangers of venturing into space. He anticipates that lawyers representing the estates of deceased individuals may argue that passengers did not fully comprehend the severity of the risks.
Nevertheless, the immunity granted by the legislation has certain limitations. Gross negligence, known dangerous conditions, or intentional harm inflicted on crew members would not be covered by the liability protection. The professor acknowledges that the effectiveness of this legislation will be tested in court when accidents occur and estates of high-value individuals sue space companies for significant amounts of money. (News source: Florida Record)
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