Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have become increasingly popular in both civilian and commercial use. This transformative technology has made an enormous impact in media coverage and commercial marketing. As the use of drones become even more widespread, the potential for misuse and injury is almost inevitable. Over the last few years, concerns of drones snooping, spying, and crashing materialized. Reports have indicated everything from drones falling from the sky injuring people, damaging property, invading people’s privacy by flying by their windows, hovering over backyards, and recording likeness at parks, beaches, and sporting events. Needless to say, the use of drones has opened the doors to potential liability for the operator or manufacturer.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) governs domestic use of drones. The FAA promulgates minimum safety standards for air safety within all of the U.S. air space. Recently, a new rule was implemented for drone usage—essentially, you can use a drone as long as it is less than 55 pounds and only reaches a maximum altitude of 400 feet. Drones should also be kept in the operator’s line of sight, and not be flown within 5 miles of an airport or hospital with a helicopter landing pad. To-date, however, the FAA does not address issues of liability that may result from the operation of drones. Nevertheless, several areas of the law may be implicated in the operation of drones, ranging from privacy, data protection, personal liability, insurance, commercial export, nuisance, to intellectual property law.
In particular, operating a drone can amount to personal injury liability if a plaintiff can establish his or her injuries resulted from the drone. Assuming there is no underlying manufacturing defect, the operator of a drone is responsible for damages caused by the drone, whether done deliberately, accidentally, or negligently. In most cases, injuries come as a result of the negligent operation of the drone. As such, an injured plaintiff must show the classic elements of negligence: duty, breach, causation, and damages. Each case is highly fact-specific, so a careful examination of all the surrounding facts is paramount to successfully recover damages. Further, it is difficult to establish a particular standard of care to show an operator breached his or her duty to the plaintiff. As a general rule, however, the operator has a duty to avoid foreseeable harm. In other words, this could mean operating a drone under the influence of a drug or alcoholic substance, while distracted, or allowing the battery to fail while in mid-air could result in liability if someone is injured.
In other such cases, personal injury may include invasion of privacy. With the size and versatility of most common drones on the market, there are increasing concerns of operators using drones to photograph people in the privacy of their homes, unauthorized use of photographs taken of people, buildings, or trade-protected images.
In other cases, however, liability may fall not just on the operator, but the manufacturer as well. If it can be established that the drone was defective in some way at the time of purchase, and was used in a manner foreseeable by the manufacturer, then liability may be imposed on any party in the chain of distribution (e.g., manufacturer, wholesaler, or retailer). This is often referred to market share liability, which essentially means multiple parties can share responsibility for a defect when the injured party cannot identify which party supplied the defective product. Like many product liability cases, a defect can include: a manufacturing defect, design defect, or failure to warn. Manufacturers and retailers owe a duty to make or sell products that are reasonably safe for ordinary use, and to warn of potential dangerous that are otherwise not obvious to users.
Without extensive regulatory guidance in place for drone operators, the use of these devices can cause considerable harm given the fact may operators do not require any formal training. In addition, drones can fly hundreds of feet in the air and reach maximum speeds of 100 miles per hour. Naturally, with exposed propellers, drones can cause significant harm if the devise crashes into a person. There have been some instances where drones have caused traumatic brain injuries, concussions, and even broken bones. Depending on the extent of the damage, severe injuries may require corrective surgery, physical therapy, or scar revision.
If you or a loved one have suffered drone-related injuries, you may be entitled to compensation for the following:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Loss of past and future earnings
- Pain and suffering
Contact the experienced attorneys at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC to review your claim. The initial consultation is free.