New Mexico liability law update stalled

An effort to update New Mexico’s commercial spaceflight liability indemnification law has run into a roadblock. As noted here last week, the New Mexico legislature is considering legislation to update its 2010 indemnification act, with the major provision being to extend the law’s immunity from lawsuits to suppliers of spaceflight operators. State officials have warned that without the update, some companies would reconsider plans to set up operations at Spaceport America, including Sierra Nevada Corporation (which, in addition to supplying the hybrid rocket motors for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, is developing its own orbital spaceplane, the Dream Chaser.)

However, on Tuesday the proposed legislation, Senate Bill 3, failed to be approved by the Judiciary Committee of the New Mexico Senate, the Albuquerque Journal reported. The bill failed to pass out of the committee to the full Senate on a 6-5 vote, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News. That effectively blocks the bill from being considered by the full Senate.

Opposition to the bill appears to be coming from trial lawyers, who see the legislation as depriving consumers of legal protections they have in other industries. (Of course, commercial spaceflight is an emerging field, raising the question if it should have the same level of legal protection as more mature industries.) The current law and the proposed bill, it should be noted, do not give spaceflight companies absolute immunity in the event of an accident that injures or kills a spaceflight participant: there are exceptions in the case of gross negligence or intentional injury.

Backers of the bill, including sponsor Sen. Mary Kay Papen, a Democrat from Las Cruces, aren’t giving up hope for the bill. While stalled in a senate committee, the full senate could have the opportunity later in the session to vote on the bill if a companion bill passes in the House.

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