SpaceX wrongful death claim: Elon Musk led company beats $20 mn Texas crash case
The family of Carlos Venegas sued SpaceX for $20 million after the 35-year-old man was killed while driving his family home from a beach camping trip at 4 a.m. in July 2020.
Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corp.) wasn't responsible for a fatal crash involving an 18-wheeler delivering supplies to a south Texas rocket facility, a federal judge determined. The family of Carlos Venegas sued SpaceX for $20 million after the 35-year-old man was killed while driving his family home from a beach camping trip at 4 a.m. in July 2020. Venegas's wife and three children were also injured when the family's car slammed into the back of a tractor-trailer attempting to negotiate a tight turn onto SpaceX's one-lane access road from an unlighted public highway.
The vehicle Venegas struck was idling on the darkened highway, partly blocking it, according to the complaint, which was dismissed Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez Jr. in Brownsville, Texas
Tony Buzbee, the family's lawyer, claimed SpaceX skimped on safety in its rush to develop commercial rockets on a profitable timeline. SpaceX should've widened the access roadway, installed safety lighting and implemented other warning systems to help truckers navigate the turn in the dark. Buzbee also said the company should've warned beachgoers there could be trucks stopped on the unlighted highway.
SpaceX claimed it didn't owe a duty of care to travelers on a public highway because the accident happened off company property and no SpaceX vehicles or employees were involved.
Rodriguez accepted the report and recommendations of U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald G. Morgan, who based his decision on a longstanding Texas legal precedent protecting property owners from damage and injury claims arising from accidents on nearby roadways.
“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,” Morgan said in his recommendations to dismiss.
The case is Venegas v. Space Exploration Technologies Corp., 1:21-54, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Brownsville).