Friday, March 11, 2016

Potential Injuries from Drones

How likely is it that personal injury lawsuits involving drones will become commonplace?

Drones, though they may still seem in the realm of science fiction to many of us, are becoming increasingly popular. So far there have not been many reported accidents involving their use, but it is probably only a matter of time until such incidents become frequent. There have been recent lawsuits in both California and Kentucky arising out of claims by drone owners that their drones have been shot down and destroyed by their neighbors. The neighbors accuse the drones of trespassing and invading their property. With an increasing number of drones in use, more serious events, including accidents arising from drone usage, seem inevitable.

Future Litigation Involving Personal Injury

Since drones are unmanned vehicles controlled remotely, it seems unavoidable that there will be accidents in which they are misguided, resulting in property damage or personal injury. It is even possible that they will be used to target certain sites or victims maliciously. Though it is not pleasant to contemplate, there will certainly be future litigation focusing on operator negligence or manufacturer liability.  As with other motorized vehicles, manufacturers may be held accountable for defective design as well as for inadequate warnings.

Increased Usage Foretells Increased Danger

Drone usage has increased dramatically over the past few years and drones are readily available for sale over the internet and through local suppliers. The Washington Post reports that approximately 700,000 recreational drone purchases were made in 2015, a 63 percent increase from the year before. The assumption is that, particularly as drones come to be used not only recreationally, but by industry and government for delivery, inspection, surveillance, and photography, there will be more and more drones in the air.

Registration of Drones Will Help Tracking

As drones become more ubiquitous, the government is tightening regulations on them. As of December 21, 2105, all drones weighing between .55 and 55 lbs must be registered with the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before being flown outdoors. Heavier drones are designated “aircraft” and must be registered with the federal Aircraft Registry. Since the FAA reports that over 100 drone sighting or close calls are reported each month, the skies are clearly becoming more crowded and more dangerous.

Registration requirements are meant to encourage compliance with federal regulations, since once registered the drones can be tracked to their owners if they cause damage or injury. There are fees and penalties for failing to register drones. Presently, drone operators are required to keep their vehicles below 400 feet and to be careful not to violate “no fly” zones.

In an effort to prevent collisions and other mishaps, new safety features are presently being engineered. These include automated controls, recall/return mechanisms, and “geo-fencing” that can keep a drone confined to a particular geographical area or height.  Manufacturers are even developing “sense and avoid” systems to prevent collisions with other aircraft.

We should all be aware, however, that no matter what safety features are incorporated into the production of drones, there will, as with all other vehicles, always be safety concerns. If drones result in harm to individuals, personal injury lawsuits will follow. Such lawsuits may be based, as they have been with other vehicles, on owner negligence, violations of federal regulations, or overriding of safety features. They may also charge manufacturers with liability because of design defects, failure to include safety features, production of vehicles susceptible to hacking, or failure to provide adequate warnings with the products they sell.

If you are injured by a drone, either as the owner because of a manufacturing defect, or as the victim of a drone that belongs to someone else, or if you suffer any personal injury caused by another, you should consult with a reputable and experienced personal injury attorney in order to receive the compensation you deserve.