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To boldly go: travel litigation in the age of space tourism

by Daniel Matchett, associate solicitor, Irwin Mitchell 

The past year has brought about a reduction in the scope of our horizons.  At times in 2020, a trip to the supermarket or to the local park took on an exotic air, the prospect of travel to more far-flung destinations but a distant memory.  However, for a privileged few with the financial means, 2021 has drastically expanded those horizons once again, beyond the supermarket, the park or even overseas climes and out into the final frontier – space tourism.

For most of us, lacking the astronomical wealth currently required (pun intended), the idea of space tourism will come as a distant novelty.  For the international injury lawyer, however, it presents an interesting academic concept – one which will become increasingly less academic and more relevant to legal practice as space tourism becomes less expensive and more available to a greater section of society. 

Swapping the Med for the Moon

As future tourists swap the Med for the Moon, how will this translate into the assessment of legal claims if things go wrong?  

Which court will have jurisdiction to consider a claim arising from an incident beyond the Earth’s atmosphere?  How will the facts of such an incident be investigated so that liability may be apportioned?  Will the strict liability regime - which applies under the Montreal Convention - to legal claims arising from air travel be extended to legal claims arising from flights beyond the Earth’s atmosphere? How will the travel insurance market respond to such a significant expansion of the potential territorial scope of a policy?

Time to consider space travel implications

Now is the time for governments at home and abroad, the tourism industry, insurers and international injury lawyers to consider such questions, alongside all of the other potential implications of space tourism as it becomes a more imminent reality. 

In the same way that the recent rise in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles has caused legislators around the world to consider the issues of legal liability arising from their use, so too will the development of the space tourism industry raise questions with which legislators will have to grapple. 

Far better that these issues should be addressed now and a clear legislative framework put in place for the resolution of legal issues arising when things go wrong.

For as long as a ticket on a space flight costs $28 million, such questions are likely to remain largely academic. The expansion of space tourism will, however, be one big step for man and an even bigger leap for the travel law profession.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in helping tourists following injury at our dedicated serious injury abroad section.

As future tourists swap the Med for the Moon, how will this translate into the assessment of legal claims if things go wrong?”