California Spaceflight Limited Liability Bill Sails Through House, Now in Senate

Legislation that would limit the liability of spacecraft operators if they injure or kill passengers during flights has passed the California House of Representatives 73-0 and is now up for consideration in the State Senate. The measure had its first reading in the Senate and has been referred to the Standing Committee on Judiciary for review.

The legislation, sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Knight of California’s 36th district and promoted by Mojave Air and Space Port CEO Stu Witt, would require that passengers sign an informed consent agreement acknowledging that spaceflight is dangerous before flying.

Specifically, the measure stipulates:

In addition to the disclosures required by federal law, the bill would require the warning statement to, at a minimum, inform the participant that the space flight entity is not liable for bodily injury sustained as a result of the risks associated with space flight activities. The bill would limit the liability of a space flight entity that complies with these provisions, except as provided. The bill would state findings and declarations of the Legislature regarding the nature of the space flight industry.

The liability protection does not apply to situations in which a spacecraft operator

(1) Commits an act or omission that constitutes gross negligence evidencing willful or wanton disregard for the safety of the participant, and that act or omission proximately causes a participant injury.

(2) Intentionally causes a participant injury.

If passed and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the measure would put the state on an even footing with Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia and Florida, which have passed similar laws. The nascent commercial space industry sees these measures as essential so companies can avoid being sued out of business in the event of serious or fatal accidents.

The legislation would also make it easier for XCOR and Virgin Galactic to conduct commercial flights out of the Mojave Air & Space Port, where both companies are developing suborbital vehicles for space tourism and scientific research flights.