Let’s say you had a great space vacation, but you had a rough re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere (like Sandra Bullock did in the blockbuster film Gravity), and now you’re having back pain. A trip to the chiropractor hasn’t resolved the issue, and you’re thinking about filing a lawsuit. What are the next steps? Well, that depends on whose ride you borrowed to get up there.
If you were in a commercial craft like the ones Elon Musk and Space X hope to fly, you’re probably in luck. The Space Act of 2015 just passed in the House and Senate, and awaits President Obama’s signature. The Space Act requires that commercial launch companies purchase liability coverage, and the policy limits for your lawyer to pursue are probably going to be massive.
In the case of each commercial launch company, the government will decide the Maximum Probably Liability and require insurance in that amount. The worst-case scenario MPL is capped at $500 million (that should be enough to pay for your chiropractor).
The Space Act also requires you to bring your space case in Federal court, rather than state court. While federal juries are usually more stingy about awarding money damages than state juries, there is some more good news here. Although there is currently no case on the books about this, a for-profit commercial space carrier would probably be considered a “common carrier” like a bus, train, or airline carrier is now. That means your lawyer doesn’t have to prove negligence, only damages. It’s an easier case that your lawyer will probably be able to settle out of court.
But wait Aria! What if I went up on a government spaceship? Well, that’s going to be a little bit tougher. Ever since the Space Shuttle was retired, NASA doesn’t have its own space launch vehicle, which means you probably got to space in a Russian Soyuz capsule. Good luck suing Mr. Vladimir Putin.
MR. PUTIN WOULD INJURE YOU A LOT WORSE THAN THE SPACESHIP DID. PROBABLY BEST TO LET IT GO.
Even once the U.S. regains its capability of sending humans into space, there may be some issues with your injury lawsuit. Assuming NASA didn’t make you sign an ironclad liability waiver in exchange for your flight to the moon, your case would be subject to the six-month public entity statute of limitations, rather than the full two years you would have to sue a private company that injured you in space.
That’s why you should always call (949) 326-5000 on your satellite phone as soon as you’ve been in a space accident. RMD Law – To boldly go where no lawyer has gone before.