Drones, due to their incredible maneuverability and mobility, are finding their way into many different commercial and domestic applications like event coverage and photography, small-scale package delivery, videography of racing events, data acquisition and many more. This commercial flourishing of drone usage, however, is not without its drawbacks or potential harms that need to be minimized.
The increased use of commercial drones correlates with an increase in the potential exposure to property damage, bodily injury and other liability losses. Drones can crash into structures, vehicles, and people resulting in damage to property or injury to a person.
As an example, a drone can interfere with the takeoff or landing of a large commercial aircraft. Other scenarios could include causing large traffic accidents. While malicious acts may be the cause of often contemplated worst-case scenarios, accidental or careless acts could also cause substantial damage. Various news stories have already reported people observing drones invading people’s privacy by flying by their windows, hovering over their backyards, and recording their likeness at parks, beaches, and sporting events. Further, there have been reports of drones falling from the sky, injuring people and damaging property.
Regulations are being written to avoid these scenarios, but these regulations are not likely to eliminate the entire range of possible accidents. Furthermore, regulations are likely to create issues for early adopters.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a division of the Department of Transportation, tasked with licensing drones for domestic use, increased regulation and oversight of drone operation for both commercial operators and recreational users.
FAA has formulated some regulations for drone usage that limit the scope of domestic usage to a great degree but does offer safety to the general public. As per one such regulation, drones were no longer allowed to fly over groups of people. Such a restriction may not be an issue for aerial real estate photography, but it may pose a big challenge for photographers and videographers who cover events that host a lot of people, like weddings, ceremonies and parties.
FAA regulations lack protections for liability caused by drones. For example, there is no regulation regarding whether a drone pilot, a commercial company on whose behalf the drone pilot is operating or the drone manufacturing company is liable when a drone crashes be
FAA regulations lack protections for liability caused by drones. For example, there is no regulation regarding whether a drone pilot, a commercial company on whose behalf the drone pilot is operating or the drone manufacturing company is liable when a drone crashes because of a manufacturing default.
In the research paper, ‘Liability Issue of Domestic Drones‘, the author, Vivek Sehrawat, analyzes the liabilities associated with drones, their affects and possible steps that can be undertaken for their mitigation.
The author classifies the liabilities created as a result of drone related activity as,
- Bodily injury: Harm caused to a person’s body directly or indirectly due to a direct collision or an accident caused by a drone.
- Property damage: Vandalism caused directly by drone activity or due to an event triggered because of drone activity.
- Personal injury: Problems that cause violation of personal rights, along with physical injuries; such as violation of privacy rights caused by intentional or accidental flight of a drone in one’s house without permission.
- Third party liability: Companies working with drones may face damages caused due to malfunctional drone activity causing liabilities for the service provider.
There are different laws and regulations set to control drone activity such that the liabilities due to drone usage would be minimized.
Certain laws relevant to drone activities are:
- FAA: In the US, FAA is the regulatory authority that sets limitations on domestic and commercial drone usage. The FAA provides the Standard Operative Procedures as well as standard requirements for drone users flying drones in different areas or domains.
- State laws: In certain countries, there are national laws regulating drone usage. However, in most countries, national laws do not regulate drone operation but state and regional law authorities do form regulations for restricting and controlling drone usage.
- Trespass laws: Trespass laws restrict drone activity on private proper without permission. Trespass laws are set to protect people from unexpected and unwelcome drone activity on their property.
- Nuisance law: The Nuisance law is described by Perritt and Sprague as, “Under nuisance law, a plaintiff who has an interest in land is able to recover damages and obtain injunctive relief if a defendant’s unreasonable conduct on other land injures the plaintiff’s use of their land.”
There are uncountable laws that regulate drones directly and there are many different laws that cover drone usage generically with other violations. The long and short of the discussion regarding different laws and regulations is that regulations need to be thought through and discretized much more so as to accommodate smooth and convenient usage of drones for commercial and domestic purposes.
Citation: Vivek Sehrawat, Liability Issue of Domestic Drones, 35 Santa Clara High Tech. L.J.110 (2018). Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.scu.edu/chtlj/vol35/iss1/3