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posted by hubie on Monday July 08, @11:16PM   Printer-friendly
from the you-may-be-entitled-to-substantial-compensation dept.

Mica Nguyen Worthy Submits First-of-its-Kind Claim to NASA Seeking Recovery From Damages Sustained from Space Debris

A precedent-setting case that could set the standard for the future of space debris claims in both the public and private sectors

On May 22, 2024, Mica Nguyen Worthy submitted a claim to NASA to recover for her clients' damages resulting from a space debris incident involving property owner, Alejandro Otero and his family.

On March 8, 2024, a piece of space debris hit the family home of Alejandro Otero, while his son Daniel was present and left a sizable hole from the roof through the sub-flooring. The space debris was confirmed by NASA to be from its flight support equipment used to mount the batteries on the cargo pallet.

The Oteros retained Worthy to navigate the insurance and legal process and to make a formal claim against NASA. The damages for the Otero family members include non-insured Property Damage loss, Business Interruption damages, Emotional/Mental anguish damages, and the costs for assistance from third parties required in the process. Additionally, the Oteros' homeowner's insurance carrier submitted a simultaneous claim for the damages to the property that it had subrogated.

Worthy, a Partner in the Charlotte office of Cranfill Sumner LLP and Chair of the firm's Aviation & Aerospace Practice Group, worked with her litigation team with experience in handling claims to prepare the Federal Torts Claim Act ("FTCA") submission with proofs of loss to NASA to fully articulate a negligence claim on behalf of her clients. However, Worthy also implored NASA to consider that persons in the U.S. should not have to make a claim under a negligence legal theory when the U.S. government has committed to being "absolutely liable" under international treaty law for damage to persons or property on the surface of the Earth caused by its space objects.

"If the incident had happened overseas, and someone in another country were damaged by the same space debris as in the Oteros' case, the U.S. would have been absolutely liable to pay for those damages under the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects also known as the 'Space Liability Convention." We have asked NASA not to apply a different standard towards U.S. citizens or residents, but instead to take care of the Oteros and make them whole," she said. "Here, the U.S. government, through NASA, has an opportunity to set the standard or 'set a precedent' as to what responsible, safe, and sustainable space operations ought to look like. If NASA were to take the position that the Oteros' claims should be paid in full, it would send a strong signal to both other governments and private industries that such victims should be compensated regardless of fault."

USSR paid $3M (from a total of $6M operation cost) for spreading nuclear space litter over Canada in 1997

A $400 littering ticket to NASA was issued in 1979 by the Esperance council (Western Australia) and was paid in full 30 years later by crowdfunding

Other space debris incidents, some resulting in injuries.

Original Submission

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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Revek on Monday July 08, @11:34PM

    by Revek (5022) on Monday July 08, @11:34PM (#1363506)

    I read in a article a few weeks ago that all they asked for was $80,000. Doesn't strike me as a money grab.

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  • (Score: 2) by Tork on Tuesday July 09, @12:48AM (1 child)

    by Tork (3914) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday July 09, @12:48AM (#1363510)
    Small nitpick: It's about whether NASA has insurance coverage.
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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by JoeMerchant on Tuesday July 09, @11:15AM (2 children)

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Tuesday July 09, @11:15AM (#1363534)

    My insurance _should_ provide me basically instant payout for damages from anything resembling space debris. Then they should conduct whatever investigation/collection of proof and subsequent pursuit of compensation from whatever "responsible party" may make restitution for said damages.

    And decent insurance company has many billions in assets to pay claims from, and serves millions of clients. The clients should not be burdened with pursuit of damaged from anything so rare as space debris.

    In the real world (exposed to hurricanes) we are lucky if any insurer will provide even the minimum required coverage at anything less than 10% of the maximum possible payout in annual premiums.

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    • (Score: 3, Touché) by EJ on Tuesday July 09, @12:47PM (1 child)

      by EJ (2452) on Tuesday July 09, @12:47PM (#1363541)

      Reality states that...

      1. Space debris hits your house
      2. NASA immediately pays you in full
      3. You never submit a claim to your insurance company at all
      4. Your insurance rates increase because...reasons

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by VLM on Tuesday July 09, @04:29PM

        by VLM (445) on Tuesday July 09, @04:29PM (#1363559)

        Your insurance rates increase because...reasons

        I looked into this and NASA wants to reduce liability so they demand/fund a property inspection after the repair that "proves" the repaired house is worth a similar or larger amount of money than the last assessment, or at least has not gone down in value compared to comparable neighbor properties.

        It's hard to win a lawsuit when everyone agrees there's no financial loss so NASA is motivated to fund an inspection. Also its reasonable for the homeowner to demand inspection to prove it was properly fully repaired in whatever way. Both sides are motivated (in a balance sheet sense) to inspect the property to prove all damage is repaired.

        Now there's documented legal paperwork that the house which was insured for $100K last year is worth $105K this year (mostly due to the real estate bubble, partially due to inflation in general, etc). Naturally the property being insured for $100K last year but being "worth" $105K this year means premiums will go up at least 5%. Note the neighbors whom didn't get hit by space debris just grin and bear it and pay the extra 5%, its on those impacted by space debris who make a big deal out of the increased rates.

        This is a fairly common situation that is not related to space debris.