DeSantis Signs Bill to Protect SpaceX, Blue Origin from Potential Lawsuits Over Crew Safety

·2 min read
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launching from Cape Canaveral in Florida on April 7, 2023.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launching from Cape Canaveral in Florida on April 7, 2023.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that essentially provides legal protection to private space companies in the event of injury or fatality to a crew member during their flights.

The Spaceflight Entity Liability bill, which was signed into law on Thursday, would exempt space companies “from liability for injury to or death of a crew resulting from spaceflight activities under certain circumstances.” It requires spaceflight companies “to have a crew sign a specified warning statement,” the bill reads.

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The law would essentially protect companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin against civil lawsuits concerning the wellbeing of their crew members. DeSantis signed the bill one day after announcing his presidential campaign through a glitchy live stream with Musk on Twitter Spaces.

Florida is home to several launch pads used for commercial rocket launches and the state seemingly wants to keep its space billionaires happy. The space industry is evolving at a rapid pace, opening up Earth’s orbit for wealthy citizens willing to pay a hefty price for a ticket to space. With that comes the risk that said wealthy passengers could turn around and sue the companies for any bodily damage.

That said, the law would not protect companies that have committed “gross negligence,” knew about dangerous conditions beforehand, or intentionally tried to harm crew members. Instead, it’s aimed at “inherent risks” of the spaceflight activity at hand and in cases when a company acts with “simple negligence,” the law reads. Crew members will now how to sign a waiver prior to engaging in spaceflight activities, thereby alleviating the space companies from responsibility of their safety, beyond the aforementioned conditions.

The waiver reads: “WARNING: Under Florida law, there is no liability for an injury to or death of a participant or crew in a spaceflight activity provided by a spaceflight entity if such injury or death results from the spaceflight activity.”

That’s a pretty explicit warning, however, it assumes that regular citizens are already aware of the risks associated with spaceflight, which may not always be the case. Private crews do undergo some form of training before embarking on a rocket trip, but in many cases, it’s simply not enough to equip the space casuals with proper tools. Pinning the responsibility of crew members’ safety on them doesn’t seem fair.

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