It seems to be a constant cycle: New technological developments go from specialized and unique to ubiquitous. As that happens, the laws meant to govern these advancements often lag far behind, desperately trying to catch up to the realities of the new discoveries, many of which present unique legal challenges that our laws have never dealt with before.
We have seen it before with things like Pokemon games, infotainment systems in cars, social media, and self-driving cars. More and more, the use of drones is pervading our everyday life, to the point that the online retailer Amazon has now begun experimenting with package delivery by drone.
Drone Usage and Injuries are Everywhere
When we think of drone safety, we often think of terrorism—that is, trying to prevent the use of drones to carry out terrorist attacks. That is a valid and important concern, but in day to day life, the risk that drones present is more likely to come in the form of personal injury. The legal issues that arise from drone accidents vary from fully tested legal fields to brand new ones.
A variety of different accidents and injuries have been caused by drones. In many cases, injuries result from poor or sloppy piloting of drones, resulting in them crashing into individuals or into crowds of bystanders. In one instance, an individual had the tip of his nose cut off when a drone crashed into his face. In another, a drone being used to photograph an Australian athlete injured the athlete when it collided with him. In 2013, a drone taking video and photographs was flown into a crowd, injuring people.
These are minor incidents compared with the many close calls that drones have had that could have caused catastrophic injury and death. For example, a drone in 2014 almost collided with an Airbus at London’s Heathrow airport. Drones also have been caught flying too close to news helicopters.
It is important to remember that wrongs such as invasion of privacy may also be caused by improper drone usage. Unauthorized photographing and usage of trademarks, people, or property can land drone operators in hot legal waters and give rise to serious liability.
The insurance industry has been alerted to drone issues and has started to take notice of coverage issues, should they be called to pay for injuries caused by a drone. Insurance coverage for individual users who may just be using their drones to take pictures of scenery, or just as a hobby, may not be widely available, but then, the risk of injury may not also be as large. You should always check to see if your homeowner’s policy includes or excludes any injury caused by drone operation.
Commercial drone operators create separate problems—any use of a drone to support a business function—requires certain types of licenses.
“Commercial” does not mean “big business”; a drone being used by a photography company to take wedding pictures or to do land surveying can be considered commercial use, even if those are small companies.
Safety Advice for Drone Owners and Operators
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) suggests that all companies that use drones, develop a comprehensive training program for any employee that will be operating them. There are even private companies that are offering drone training to users and individuals. Geofencing technology, which restricts drones from flying out of a certain, predefined area, should also be utilized. Electronic logging of a drone’s usage and flight pattern is suggested.
Of course, common sense should rule the day. Children should never be permitted to use drones without permission and supervision. Users should try to avoid flying drones over crowds. Do not fly drones in weather such as wind and rain, which could cause loss of signal or inability to control the drone. Always make sure your drone is maintained—for example, drones without protective coverings for the propellers should never be flown.
Larger companies with large warehouses may use drones indoors. Interestingly, the use of drones indoors is not regulated by the FAA. Given the closed quarters and the potential for signals from the operator to the drone to be blocked, the risk of a collision is even greater.
Drone Injuries Create Legal Issues
People injured by drones may have some difficult legal hurdles to overcome, especially with commercial drones. Many companies do not own, but rather lease drones, leading to liability questions over who may be liable after an injury.
Like a vehicle, drones can be negligently operated by a driver or pilot, but they can also have a defect that causes an injury. Figuring out whether the operator or the maker of the drone has liability can be difficult.
Unlike cars, which companies tend to get repaired and put back into service, drones may be more likely to be trashed if they are broken, leading to destruction of vital evidence that a victim may need to prove a case. Although software is available, the drones themselves do not have the computer systems that cars have, which can disclose where the drone has been or how it was flown.
Drones create unique legal issues that call into play a number of traditional personal injury issues. If you are injured by any type of negligence, or improper usage of any device, contact Brill & Rinaldi today about a free consultation to discuss your case.