Unusual Space Junk Mishap Results in Unusual Lawsuit

Florida family sues NASA over damaged home
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 24, 2024 1:53 PM CDT
Family Sues NASA After Space Junk Damages Home
This photo provided by NASA shows a recovered chunk of space junk from the International Space Station. The object tore through a home in Naples, Fla., March 8, 2024.   (NASA via AP)

When a small piece of space debris fell to Earth and damaged a home in Florida, it raised the interesting question of who should pay up. A new lawsuit filed by the family that owns the home thinks the answer is pretty simple: NASA. The unusual legal case stems from an incident earlier this year in Naples, Florida, reports the Naples Daily News. A cylindrical piece of space junk weighing a little under 2 pounds crashed through the roof of a home owned by Alejandro Otero. Nobody was injured, though Otero's son was home at the time. NASA later acknowledged that the debris came from a pallet of used batteries from the International Space Station that was jettisoned and supposed to burn up in the atmosphere, per NPR.

"My clients are seeking adequate compensation to account for the stress and impact that this event had on their lives," attorney Mica Nguyen Worthy says in a news release. "If the debris had hit a few feet in another direction, there could have been serious injury or a fatality." The lawsuit doesn't specify damages, but Worthy tells the Washington Post the family is seeking "in excess of $80,000." NASA has not commented on the lawsuit, filed under the Federal Torts Claim Act. The space agency has six months to respond to the suit.

NPR points out a quirk of the relevant laws. Had the debris come down in international territory, NASA would have been clearly obligated to pay for the damages under the international pact known as the Space Liability Convention. However, because it came down on US territory, the matter is a domestic case and thus a little murkier. (More space debris stories.)

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