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Guest: Tracey Knutson; Topics: Informed consent, federal regulations & legal issues for spaceflight participants. Please direct all comments and questions regarding specific Space Show programs & guest(s) to the Space Show blog which is part of archived program on our website, www.thespaceshow.com. Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm.
We welcomed back Tracey Knutson to discuss federal regulatory changes and updates applicable to spaceflight participants for space tourism & commercial spaceflights. Our discussion was in one segment lasting 1 hour 46 minutes. I started the conversation by asking our guest about amusement park accidents such as those where cars go flying off the thrill ride or something similar. Ms. Knutson explained why these types of accidents were not considered adventure or highly risky ventures and the liability issues were different. One of the differences lies in the fact that the amusement park accident normally happens with mechanical equipment so causation becomes crucial to understanding what happened and assessing liability. There are regulations and manufacturer specifics regarding the equipment which is well known, understood, and can be properly controlled. In adventure travel, including commercial spaceflight, the risks are unknown and uncontrollable. Amusement park and equipment operators do have control. In spaceflight, one cannot predict what will happen. Even the space hardware is an unknown quantity. With this as a background, Ms. Knutson brought us current regarding federal regulations and commercial & private human spaceflight.
Tracey brought our attention to the late 2015 Commercial Space Competitive Act. There is now a document that the participants must sign which consists of a reciprocal waiver of claims favoring the government. A sample of the document is included in the federal code. Tracey explained this change and the required documentation to us. She also pointed out concerns and issues for the operator that have been left vague at this time. This is a discussion you do not want to miss. In addition, much was said about indemnity agreements, informed consent, and operator defenses.
One thing Tracey pointed out was that this branch of space law applying to human spaceflight is now creating and will create a brave new world of litigation when the flights start and if and when an accident happens. Tracey continued to point out the challenges for the operator and for the participant, most of which are not yet clearly defined in law. However, if one looks to the adventure travel industry where there has been a significant amount of litigation we can see developing trends with courts and judges.
For adventure travel, Tracey talked about activities such as mountain climbing, shark and wildlife hunting, helicopter skiing, and other similar activities. Pay attention to the standard documents the participant must sign without negotiation. Our guest also pointed out that a new trend shows life insurance companies refusing to pay off on claims when the person died doing a high risk adventure activity. Even if the activity was not specifically forbidden in the life insurance contract, the insurers are relying on a risk formula for the activity and general policy language. Their refusal to pay has been held up by some courts all over the country. Another question came up about claims that might be made by the surviving family members. In addition, if the participant signed documentation provided by the flight operator and required by statute, the family might be out of luck even if they were not consulted their loved one took on the risk activity (spaceflight). This was an important part of our discussion so don't miss it raising important concerns for family members and beneficiaries.
As we were nearing the end of the program, we got several listener emails about the regulations plus listeners asked many "what if" legal scenario questions for situations that may happen on a space tourism flight. For example, Alan in Houston wanted to know how tickets could be sold without the vehicle risks and other information required by law being available to the participant at the time of paying the operator for the ticket. Don't miss this discussion. Another listener wanted to know if a regular business or estate planning attorney representing the participant would have the needed background and expertise to evaluate the paperwork for his/her client wanting to ride to space. Another point brought up was that the spaceflight participant, as part of the experiment, could be liable for damages caused by the spaceflight and in some cases, may be the deep pocket defendant, even more so than the operator. She mentioned protecting assets but that is not always easy to do because of adverse tax considerations that may arise. In addition, moving assets to avoid liability may in some circumstances be reversed by a court. One of the last questions asked was by Sarah who was wanting to know the obligation of the operator or the government for rescue should that be possible for spaceflight participants in the future. For sure you do not want to miss what Tracey said about rescue and related issues to it. Two of the more frequent "what if" questions asked our guest involved liability for having the trip ruined by someone getting space sickness or free floating but not properly getting back to their seat in time thus crashing down on another person resulting in injury or ruining the victim's flight experience. Does the operator of the flight have any responsibility in these matters? Listen to what Tracey said about this concerns.
Please post your comments/questions for Ms. Knutson on The Space Show blog. Visit her website, www.traceyknutson.com. You can reach Tracey through her website or me.