Florida Moves to Shield Space Companies From Lawsuits

Passengers, crew members will be required to sign waiver before liftoff
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 17, 2023 1:08 PM CDT
Florida Moves to Shield Space Companies From Lawsuits
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the crew capsule Endeavour, sits on Launch Complex 39-A Monday, Feb. 27, 2023, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.   (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The spaceflight industry is big business in Florida—and lawmakers have moved to protect space companies from getting sued if things go wrong. A bill passed by Florida lawmakers shields companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin from civil lawsuits if spacecraft passengers or crew members are killed or injured, Business Insider reports. Space travelers will be required to sign a waiver stating that they are aware of the substantial risks involved. Under the Spaceflight Entity Liability bill, companies will still be liable in cases of gross negligence, but not in cases where injury or death is caused by "inherent risks of the spaceflight activity."

Florida lawmakers say the bill, which passed with little opposition and was sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis, is intended to reflect changes in spaceflight. "Astronauts are no longer government astronauts. These are commercial crew," GOP state Rep. Tyler Sirois said at a hearing earlier this year.

"The fear is that the estate of ultra-wealthy passengers could bring massive claims for hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue due to the life of the passenger being cut short," Mark Sundahl, director of the Global Space Law Center at Cleveland State University, tells Gizmodo. “The industry is still in its early days and such liability might stunt the industry." But Sundahl says it's not clear whether the bill would hold up to court challenges, as "it is questionable whether a passenger who is not familiar with the technology and history of spaceflight can truly" give "informed consent" as the waiver would state. (More Florida stories.)

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