Texas Space Liability Bills Move Through the Legislature
In previous blog entries I reported on the proliferation of private spaceports, including those in New Mexico, Boca Chica Beach in deep South Texas and potentially Ellington Air Force Base in the Clear Lake/NASA region of Houston. As with any new industry, state governments are bending over backwards to attract this cutting edge industry. Among other incentives, they are taking steps to eliminate the potential financial risk of lawsuits against them. Texas is no exception.
Last week, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into law a bill that will allow for the temporary closure of Boca Chica Beach for potential rocket launches by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.
Additionally, the so-called Texas Space Bill has been sent to the Governor for signature. The bill provides that a space flight entity will not liable for damages resulting from a “nuisance” arising from testing, launching, reentering or landing of a spacecraft.
A “nuisance”, in Texas law, is defined as a condition that substantially interferes with the use and enjoyment of land by causing unreasonable discomfort or annoyance to persons of ordinary sensibilities. The classic example is someone moving into your nice suburban neighborhood and opening a pig farm.
The Texas Legislature has previously identified various activities that automatically constitute a common “nuisance”. These include establishments used for such things as drug usage, gambling, prostitution, sexually oriented businesses, etc. Suits can be brought to shut down these types of establishments.
I assume the fear is that the spaceport operators will have to spend money defending countless suits for alleged nuisances caused by the inherent noise and vibrations of a spacecraft launch.
Interestingly, the Space bill also provides that a “participant” in a space flight can sue the operator for an injury caused by the spaceflight company’s gross negligence or intentional act.