Don’t Let Drones Crash Your Business

Well, you did it, you hired your first drone pilot! You had seen your neighbor flying his drone around the neighborhood, and he agreed to take some aerial photos for you of the new house you listed.  Unfortunately, things didn’t go exactly as planned. Your neighbor got the shots you wanted, but as he was bringing the drone in for a landing, he accidentally crashed it into one of the children that had gathered around to watch the flight. The drone propeller cut the child’s face and eye severely and now you are one of the defendants in the lawsuit.

Wait, WHAT? How can you be a defendant? You weren’t flying the drone. No, but you and your company could still be liable.

It turns out that the drone pilot you hired was not certified by the FAA, and although he told you he had insurance, that was his home owners insurance that covers the cost of replacing his drone. Since drones are identified as aircraft by the FAA, they need specific insurance that speaks to liability, and your drone guy didn’t have that, which means this just got legally messy as to who will pay. Many companies fall back on their general liability policy, and in this case with a contractor, that might work, but it might not, if there’s an exclusion for aircraft. You should have checked with your insurance agent. You also should have asked him if a general liability policy would work if the drone pilot was an agent or employee of the company. If not, in that scenario, the cross hairs would be directly on the company that let their uncertified and uninsured agent or employee fly a drone for business.

Hold it, is that the FAA knocking on your door to investigate the incident? Are they going to issue addition fines on top of the lawsuit? Did they bring the NTSB with them? Good grief, lawsuits, insurance problems, federal participation…this is getting ugly 🙁

You better find some loopholes, and quick! OK, what if money wasn’t exchanged for the drone pictures? HEY!!! Good point, that’s not commercial work, so the company is off the hook, right?. Nope, good try, by the FAA definition, it was associated with work even if no payment is involved, and therefore, considered commercial work. OK, what if the agent hired the drone pilot without the companies knowledge? HEY!!! Good point, you can’t be held responsible for something you didn’t….oh never mind, a plea of ignorance probably won’t impress a judge. Well, perhaps a loophole isn’t your best defense. So how do you get out of this mess? Sadly, you don’t.

Regardless of how this story ultimately ends, nobody wants to get caught in the middle of a debacle like this. And unfortunately, an injury is not the only thing that can create it. Invasion of privacy, trespassing, property damage, livestock trauma, and other lawsuit worthy offenses are considerations for all drone operations…not to mention the federal rules that apply to airspace. In short, there is a lot more to it than simply flying a drone and taking pretty pictures.

So what’s the answer? Hire a professional. Hire someone that is FAA certified, carries the correct insurance, and knows the rules. Don’t take a chance and on letting a drone crash your business.