Tag Archives: law

Stellar Law, Part II

10 Oct

International conventions:

Prior to 2021, no international (or interplanetary) conventions existed concerning stellar trade and commerce. In 2021, the United Nations, aided by the persistent efforts of Pat Hallas, pushed through the first edition of Stellar Law (a revised Maritime Law that reflected, as far as could be predicted, the challenges of space travel and commerce).
Since each body of law needs a court of decision, the United Nations designated the new International Space Station as the seat of the (very limited) solar government.

The newly formed solar government’s main responsibility was safety, and it borrowed heavily from numerous international conventions concerning maritime safety, developing the Guidelines for the Safety of Life in Space , the Standards for Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping, the Regulations for Preventing Collisions in Space, the Stellar Search and Rescue Conventions, and others. The United Nations Convention on Stellar Law also defined planetary boundaries and property rights.

Piracy:

Merchant space vessels transiting areas of increased pirate activity are advised to implement Self-Protective measures in accordance with most recent Best Management Practices agreed upon by the members of the merchant industry.

Individual countries:

Non-space courts assume jurisdiction over vessels in their territorial jurisdictions irrespective of whether the vessel is initially registered in their jurisdiction or not and wherever the residence or domicile or their owners may be. A vessel is usually arrested by the court to retain jurisdiction. Government-owned vessels from other jurisdictions are usually immune from arrest.

Jurisdiction:

There are five types of cases which can only be brought in stellar court:

  • Limitation of Space Ship Owner’s Liability,
  • Vessel Arrests in Rem,
  • Property arrests Quasi in Rem,
  • Salvage cases, and
  • Petitory and Possession Actions.

The common element of those cases is that they require the solar court to exercise jurisdiction over stellar property. For example, in a Petitory and Possession Action, a vessel whose title is in dispute, usually between co-owners, will be put in the possession of the court until the title dispute can be resolved. In a Limitation Action the space ship owner will post a bond reflecting the value of the vessel and her pending freight.

Aside from those five types of cases, all other stellar cases, such as claims for personal injuries, cargo damage, collisions, stellar products liability, and recreational stellar accidents may be brought in either the solar or a divisional court (Earth, Mars, Luna, or Stellar-Commercial).

From a tactical standpoint it is important to consider that in the solar court, there is generally no right to trial by jury in most space cases, although the Jones Act was extended to grant a jury trial to space workers suing their employers.

Stellar law is governed by a uniform five year statute of limitations for personal injury and wrongful death cases. Cargo cases must be brought within three years.

Applicable Law:

A divisional court hearing a space case is required to apply the stellar law, even if it conflicts with the law of the division, under a doctrine known as the “reverse-Erie doctrine”. The “reverse-Erie doctrine” requires lower courts hearing space cases to apply substantive space law. However, these lower courts are allowed to apply their own procedural law. This change can be significant.

 

Cargo Claims:

Claims for damage to cargo shipped in interplanetary commerce are governed by the Hague Rules. One of its key features is that a space ship owner is liable for cargo damaged from “hook to hook”, meaning from loading to discharge, unless it is exonerated under one of 17 exceptions to liability, such as an “act of God,” the inherent nature of the goods, errors in navigation, and management of the ship.

Personal injuries to space workers:

Space workers injured aboard ship have three possible sources of compensation: the principle of maintenance and cure, the doctrine of unseaworthiness, and the Jones Act. The principle of maintenance and cure requires a space ship owner to both pay for an injured worker’s medical treatment until maximum medical recovery (MMR) is obtained and provide basic living expenses until completion of the voyage, even if the worker is no longer aboard ship.

Stellar Law, Part I

25 Sep

While working on the first draft of an asteroid miner story about a year and a half ago, I started thinking about the kinds of laws we will need for working, traveling, and living in space. A little bit of research led me to Maritime Law, which governs civilized behavior on Earth’s oceans, particularly once people are outside national coastal waters. Maritime Law, due to its nature, is international law; just as stellar law (off planet, yet within our solar system) should grow to be more than just Earth-based, particularly once people begin to live on Mars, on asteroids, or one of the moons.
So I took the Wikipedia article on Maritime Law and fiddled with it a bit. What follows is the first section of a future encyclopedia description of stellar law:

 

Stellar Law/Solar Law/Space Law

Stellar Law (also referred to as Solar Law/Space Law) is a distinct body of law which governs space questions and offenses. It is heavily based on Admiralty/Maritime Law. Space law is a body of both domestic law governing space-going activities, and private interstellar law governing the relationships between private entities which operate vessels in outer space. It deals with matters including solar system commerce, navigation, shipping, astronauts and other space workers, and the transportation of passengers and goods through space.

Stellar law also deals with navigational rights, mineral rights, jurisdiction over planetary defense zones and interstellar law governing relationships between planets.

Although each legal jurisdiction usually has its own enacted legislation governing astronomical matters, space law is characterized by a significant amount of interplanetary law developed in recent decades, including numerous multilateral treaties.

Features of stellar law

Maintenance and cure

The doctrine of maintenance and cure is rooted in the Article VI of the Rolls of Oleron promulgated in about 1160 A.D. The obligation to “cure” requires a space vessel owner to provide medical care, free of charge, to a person injured in the service of the vessel, until the person has reached “maximum medical cure”. The concept of “maximum medical cure” is more extensive than the concept “maximum medical improvement”. The obligation to “cure” a person includes the obligation to provide him or her with medications and medical devices which improve his or her ability to function, even if they don’t “improve” his or her actual condition. They may include long-term treatments that permit the person to continue to function well. Common examples include prostheses, wheelchairs, and pain medications.

The obligation of “maintenance” requires a space vessel owner to provide a worker with basic living expenses while convalescing. Once the injured worker is able to work, he or she is expected to maintain himself or herself. Consequently, an injured worker can lose the right to maintenance, while the obligation to provide cure is ongoing.

A vessel worker who is required to sue a vessel owner to recover maintenance and cure may also recover attorney fees. If a vessel owner’s breach of its obligation to provide maintenance and cure is willful and wanton, the vessel owner may be subject to punitive damages.

Personal injuries to passengers

Space vessel owners owe a duty of reasonable care to passengers (for a broad overview of this theory in law, see negligence). Consequently, passengers who are injured aboard space vessels may bring suit as if they had been injured aplanet through the negligence of a third party. The passenger bears the burden of proving that the vessel owner was negligent. While the statute of limitations is generally three years planetside, suits against space owners, including cruise lines must usually be brought within five years to allow for communication difficulties in the depths of space. Most Earth-based space cruise line passenger tickets have provisions requiring that suit to be brought in the Earth city from which the cruise departed.

Stellar liens

Banks which loan money to purchase space vessels, vendors who supply space vessels with necessaries like fuel and stores, vessel workers who are due wages, and many others may have a lien against the vessel to guarantee payment. To enforce the lien, the vessel must be arrested or seized. An action to enforce a lien against a space vessel must be brought in the court of the planet or authority which licensed the vessel.

Salvage

When property is lost in space and rescued by another, the rescuer is entitled to claim a salvage award on the salved property. There is no “life salvage”. All spacefarers have a duty to save the lives of others in peril without expectation of reward. Consequently salvage law applies only to the saving of property.

There are two types of salvage: contract salvage and pure salvage, which is sometimes referred to as “merit salvage”. In contract salvage the owner of the property and salvor enter into a salvage contract prior to the commencement of salvage operations and the amount that the salvor is paid is determined by the contract. The most common salvage contract is called a “Lloyd’s Open Form Salvage Contract”.

In pure salvage, there is no contract between the owner of the goods and the salvor. The relationship is one which is implied by law. The salvor of property under pure salvage must bring his claim for salvage in court, which will award salvage based upon the “merit” of the service and the value of the salvaged property.

Pure salvage claims are divided into “high-order” and “low-order” salvage. In high-order salvage, the salvor exposes himself/herself and his/her crew to the risk of injury and loss or damage to equipment to salvage the damaged vessel. Examples of high-order salvage are boarding a tumbling vessel in an asteroid field, boarding a vessel which is on fire, raising a vessel from a comet, or towing an uncontrolled vessel out of a gravity well. Low-order salvage occurs where the salvor is exposed to little or no personal risk. Examples of low-order salvage include towing another vessel in “empty” space, supplying a vessel with fuel, or pulling a vessel off a stellar body which has a non-hazardous orbit. Salvors performing high order salvage receive substantially greater salvage award than those performing low order salvage.

In both high-order and low-order salvage, the amount of the salvage award is based first upon the value of the property saved. If nothing is saved, or if additional damage is done, there will be no award. The other factors to be considered are the skills of the salvor, the peril to which the salvaged property was exposed, the value of the property which was risked in effecting the salvage, the amount of time and money expended in the salvage operation etc.

A pure or merit salvage award will seldom exceed 50 percent of the value of the property salved.