Personal Injury Law’s New Frontier: Drone Injuries

Drones, which are also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s), have become increasingly common in our airspace. Drones are no longer just a fun toy or hobby. Businesses of many kinds are using drones for surveying and assessment, deliveries, inspections, and monitoring, and for many other purposes each day.

As a result of widespread drone deployment, the interactions that lead to harm or damage to people and property have expanded greatly. The case law regarding drone injury and drone crashes is still evolving. While more than half of states have promulgated regulations dealing with personal injuries caused by drones, these are all new and untested.

Drones and Traditional Torts

Operating a drone properly requires both technical skill and experience. With few regulations discussing drones, debate exists about what constitutes negligence when it comes to drones. Drone incidents can come in many different contexts, to which traditional tort law can apply, including the following:

  • Personal Injury: As with others who cause injury, traditional personal injury theory holds drone operators liable for negligence leading to injuries to another person. Drones can also be a nuisance to others or create a dangerous distraction that leads to accidents and injuries.
  • Product Liability: Recreational and commercial drones can cause injuries to users and others and become a threat to public safety. If defective or unsafe components or drones cause injury, traditional product liability theory makes the manufacturer accountable.
  • Premises Liability: Drones have great range and may be used both indoors and outdoors, and on a public or private property. Owners and occupiers owe a reasonable duty to the public and invitees to keep their premises safe.

Invasion of Privacy: Drones frequently carry video recorders and cameras, allowing for the capturing of images from great distances. Drones and their operators may invade reasonable, and previous zones for, expectations of privacy.

New and Possible Areas of Regulation and Liability

The law of drones is very much an unsettled space. The Federal Aviation Administration governs drone usage and licensing, and requires operators to report, within ten days of its occurrence, any accident that results in serious injury or loss of consciousness to a person. Over 36 states have enacted laws and regulations dealing with drones. In the other states, traditional tort law and other legal theories may be the only remedy for now. There will continue to be more and more drone injuries and the laws will evolve to deal with them. In the meantime, traditional personal injury theory will form the basis of many lawsuits.

Tips Regarding Drone Use and Liability

Those who use drones for personal use are generally, but not always, covered under their homeowner’s insurance policy for harm done by their drones.

Because great harm may be done by drones, it is recommended that those who use drones for personal use consider buying additional liability insurance.

Anyone who uses drones for commercial purposes should make sure to insure their drone use.

For a good summary of drone laws in the United States, visit https://uavcoach.com/drone-laws-in-united-states-of-america/

To see whether you must register your drone with the FAA, visit https://faadronezone.faa.gov/#/

For a partial listing of drone laws by state, visit https://consumer.findlaw.com/consumer-transactions/drone-laws-by-state.html

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