Family Sues NASA After Incident at Their Home

A Florida family has lodged a claim against the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) after a piece of space debris crashed through their home earlier this year. The debris, confirmed by NASA, was a 1.6-pound stanchion made of nickel-chromium. The stanchion, measuring approximately 4 inches long and 2 inches wide, was designed to secure a battery to a nearly 6,000-pound cargo pallet. It was supposed to disintegrate in the atmosphere after being jettisoned from the International Space Station on March 8, but it failed to do so.

The Otero family’s attorney, Mica Nguyen Worthy from Cranfill Sumner LLP, released a statement about the lawsuit on June 21. The statement revealed that the Otero’s son was in the house when the debris crashed through their Naples home. The family is now in the process of filing a formal claim against NASA. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, NASA has six months to respond.

Worthy emphasized that the family is thankful that the incident was a “near-miss.” However, they are seeking compensation for the physical and emotional trauma caused by the unexpected event. “If the debris had hit a few feet in another direction, there could have been serious injury or a fatality,” she said.

The claim also aims to establish a precedent for how the public can respond to the consequences of space debris in low orbit. Worthy pointed out that if the incident had occurred overseas and caused damage in another country, the U.S. would have been liable 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,” Worthy said. She added that the U.S. government, through NASA, has an opportunity to set a standard for responsible, safe, and sustainable space operations. If NASA agrees to pay the Oteros’ claims in full, it would send a strong message to other governments and private industries that victims should be compensated regardless of fault.

A representative for Worthy informed Law&Crime that she was not allowed to share a copy of the claim.