Judge Dismisses Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against SpaceX

A U.S. District Court for southern Texas dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit against SpaceX that sought $20 million. A Texas man had been killed in an accident involving a truck that was delivering supplies to SpaceX’s test facility just outside Brownsville, Texas.

Family members of the 35-year-old man who was killed in the accident brought the lawsuit, alleging that the truck caused a dangerous situation by blocking a highway that passed close to the test facility while making its delivery.

According to the complaint, the family had been driving home from a visit to Boca Chica Beach in June 2020 when their vehicle slammed into the truck. 35-year-old Carlos Venegas died of head trauma at the scene of the accident. His wife and three children suffered spine and leg injuries.

The lawsuit alleged that SpaceX failed to provide sufficient safety measures such as stoplights, security personnel, reflective signs, or reflective markers. The section of highway at which the accident happened is allegedly not well-lit enough to allow for good visibility during the early morning hours in which the accident happened.

The truck had been attempting to make a tight turn onto a narrow access road leading to the test facility from a nearby highway. The highway was not very well-lit.

The plaintiffs also alleged that SpaceX failed to adequately warn beachgoers that it was expecting semi trucks to enter and leave the test facility. SpaceX has a permit to regularly close nearby public beaches and roads for safety reasons if there is a reasonable chance that activities like a scheduled test launch of a Starship prototype at the test facility might pose a danger to the public.

Some local residents complained last year that SpaceX exceeded the 300 allowed hours of closures last year, something that SpaceX disputed. SpaceX had also suggested that ownership of roads near the test facility could be turned over to the company. It already owns one section of road running past the facility that was renamed “Rocket Road,” though the accident occurred on a public highway and not Rocket Road.

SpaceX’s legal defense team told the district court that it wasn’t liable for the accident since it occurred off the company’s property and didn’t involve any SpaceX vehicles or personnel. The legal precedent cited by the district court said that landowners aren’t liable for accidents that occur on public roadways near their property.

US Magistrate Judge Ronald Morgan recommended that the case be dismissed, saying that “a landowner’s duty to exercise reasonable care not to endanger the safety of persons on an abutting highway does not create an obligation to guard passing motorists against the possible negligence of an independent contractor over whom the landowner exercises no control and whose competence to perform his duties the landowner has no reason to doubt.”

US District Judge Fernando Rodriguex Jr. agreed with Morgan. The plaintiff’s original court filing can be viewed on Justia.