Aerospace companies could get legal protections under Florida law
The Florida House began moving forward with a bill that would extend liability protections to aerospace companies when crew members are injured or killed in spaceflights.
The House Civil Justice Subcommittee voted 16-1 to approve a measure (HB 839) that would broaden legal immunities for injuries or deaths “resulting from the inherent risks of spaceflight activities.”
State law already provides such liability protections for injuries or deaths of spaceflight participants who are not considered crew members. The protections apply when those people have signed statements acknowledging risks.
Bill sponsor Tyler Sirois, R-Merritt Island, said the measure is a step in addressing the growth of the private aerospace industry in Florida.
“Astronauts are no longer government astronauts,” Sirois said. “These are commercial crew. These are individuals that are going through the process that our different commercial spaceflight companies are offering, and they're flying on private vehicles and assets.”
A staff analysis said the measure “has the potential to limit the cost of litigation to businesses engaging in spaceflight activities.”
In voting against the measure, Rep. Ashley Gantt, D-Miami, said she wanted more information about how far the liability protections would extend.
Currently, public and private spaceflight entries are shielded from liability for ordinary negligence related to non-crew members on spaceflights. But they are not shielded from liability for “gross negligence or willful disregard for the safety of the participant,” if they have knowledge of a “dangerous condition” that causes injury or death or if they intentionally injure participants, according to current laws.
Those exceptions also would apply when crew members are injured or killed, under the bill.
“The waiver is saying that the crew member understands that there are inherent risks associated with spaceflight,” Sirois said. “And while every reasonable step and to our knowledge, every understanding and measures taken to protect crew and astronauts, spaceflight does come at extreme risk.”
Sirois said he anticipates lawmakers will have to address more issues about the space industry as private aerospace companies grow in Florida.
“We are working very hard, I think, to update Florida law from the shuttle era,” Sirois said.
Sen. Tom Wright, a New Smyrna Beach Republican who chairs the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee, filed a similar bill (SB 1318) last week.