Spaceflight Liability Changes Advance in California Legislature

State Sen. Steve Knight
State Sen. Steve Knight

The California State Senate is moving forward with changes to a law that limits the liability of spacecraft operators and their suppliers for any injuries or deaths they cause to participants.

The measure, sponsored by State Sen. Steve Knight (R-Lancaster), would require spacecraft operators to enter into a “reciprocal waiver of claims with its contractors, subcontractors, customers, participants, and contractors and subcontractors of the customers or participants” to hold each other blameless in the event of an incident.

“Under a reciprocal waiver of claims, each party to the waiver shall agree to be responsible for property damage or loss it sustains, or for personal injury to, death of, or property damage or loss sustained by its employees resulting from space flight activities,” according to the bill.

Injuries are described in the measure as “bodily injury, including death, emotional injury, or property damage, sustained by the participant.”

When Knight introduced the bill last February, it included a provision that expanded limited liability protections to vehicle manufacturers and suppliers of components and services. That language was removed earlier this month and replaced by the reciprocal waiver of claims requirement.

Injured parties can still sue under the following conditions if the spaceflight entity:

“(1) Commits an act or omission that constitutes gross negligence or 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.

“(3) Has actual knowledge or reasonably should have known of a dangerous condition on the land or in the facilities or equipment used in space flight activities and the dangerous condition proximately causes injury, damage, or death to the participant.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the amended legislation by a 6-0 vote on Jan. 14.