Who Is Liable for Traffic Accidents on the Moon?

Who is Liable for Traffic Accidents on the Moon?

dunc / Pixabay

When traffic accidents occur in countries around the world, there are laws that govern who is responsible and to what extent the responsible party is liable. But how do we determine who is liable for traffic accidents on the moon? Students in the 2017 Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competition gave significant consideration to this question.[1]

The competition gives law students from multiple countries the opportunity to apply legal principles to space exploration and development. Currently, space law is largely based on international treaties, such as the Outer Space Treaty[2] and the Moon Agreement.[3] There is some tension among treaties, however, over the primary purpose of activities in space.[4] For example, the Outer Space Treaty focuses on peaceful and cooperative exploration of space for the benefit of all countries.[5] The Moon Agreement contains more specific terms addressing long-term development on the moon and the potential exploitation of the moon’s natural resources.[6] With more countries launching satellites into space and commercial companies such as SpaceX hoping to send people around the moon in the near future, these treaties are likely to be subject to increasing scrutiny as parties attempt to navigate the legal restrictions and regulations governing conduct in space.[7] For more information on existing space law and some potential legal concerns related to commercial space travel, see our post All About that Space Law.

Participants in the Moot Court learn how to apply space law to practical problems representing the kinds of disputes that could arise in the future. In this year’s Moot Court, the students considered a dispute between two neighboring countries when one country’s (Titan’s) moon vehicle collided with equipment the other country (Perovsk) uses in its lunar mining operations. Although the two countries initially cooperated to develop their space programs, Titan primarily seeks to conduct experiments on the moon while Perovsk seeks to harness some of the moon’s minerals. The tension between the two countries increased, and when Perovsk sued Titan for damages in the International Court of Justice, Titan responded that Perovsk’s mining operations are polluting the moon.[8]

The Moot Court contestants faced the challenging dilemma of applying space law to determine each country’s liability and to address the broader question of who, if anyone, has the right to use and pollute the moon. Teams from North America, South Africa, Greece, and India were finalists in this year’s competition, with the team from the National Law School of India University Bangalore winning the prize.[9] Students participating in the Moot Court have varying goals. Some are focusing their legal education on space law and hope to find employment with aerospace companies such as NASA. Others aspire to be diplomats and enjoy participation in the Moot Court because it provides a practical opportunity to address legal problems in a field where the law is based mostly on international treaties.[10]

While O’Connor’s doesn’t yet offer a book covering outer space causes of action, for information on more earthly claims, see O’Connor’s Texas Causes of Action.

[1] See Rebecca Hersher, An Accident on the Moon, Young Lawyers to the Rescue, NPR, Sept. 22, 2017.

[2] Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies [hereinafter Outer Space Treaty].

[3] Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies [hereinafter Moon Agreement].

[4] Hersher, An Accident on the Moon, Young Lawyers to the Rescue.

[5] Outer Space Treaty.

[6] Moon Agreement.

[7] See Hersher, An Accident on the Moon, Young Lawyers to the Rescue.

[8] See id.; International Institute of Space Law, Lachs Moot Competition.

[9] National Law School of India University Bangalore, 26th Manfred Lachs International Space Law Moot Court Competition.

[10] See Hersher, An Accident on the Moon, Young Lawyers to the Rescue.