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Dec 9, 2015

Drones and personal liability: What do I need to know?

A few years ago, any mention of drones would conjure up visions of military surveillance aircraft. Not so today! Drones are being used for everything from agricultural surveys and retail delivery to real estate photography.

According to market researcher Radiant Insights, revenue from the consumer drone market is expected to soar from $609 million (2014) to $4.8 billion by the end of the decade. This growth in popularity has caused concerns over privacy and safety, so much so that in 2013 Congress directed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to enact drone regulations.1 The FAA made safety its top priority, but privacy is also high on the list of concerns.

Some states have, or are in the process of, enacted laws that make it unlawful to use a drone to conduct surveillance, harass or photograph people without their consent.2 Also being discussed is legislation to restrict the use of drones from interfering with emergency, police and firefighting operations.

THE RISKS

As risk management and insurance professionals, we look for evolving risks that may affect clients. Then we provide education and solutions to mitigate risk and financial impact. There are three main types of consumer risksregarding drones:

  • Bodily injury can happen through direct injury to a person by a drone, or indirect injury, when a drone causes an event such as a car accident or manned aircraft collision.
  • Property damage is direct damage caused by a drone or an event triggered by a drone. For example, one might hit a power line causing a brush fire that destroys homes. Also included here is property damage exacerbated bya drone, e.g., interference with firefighting personnel, hindering the containment of a fire that goes on to damage property. Earlier this year, fire crews were forced to ground water-dropping aircraft because of drones. Those aircraft had been targeting flames that burned 36,000 acres in Southern California.
  • Personal injury includes the invasion of privacy when a drone photographs someone where there is an expectation of privacy, and the unauthorized use of photographs taken of people, buildings, or trade-protected images.

HOW TO PREVENT OR MITIGATE LOSS

Drone enthusiasts can take several steps to avoid liability:

  • Be aware of and comply with federal, state and local laws that govern the use and operation of drones.
  • Know who is using a drone and his or her experience level.
  • Enforce safe practices with children operating drones.

HOW INSURANCE CAN PROTECT YOU

Homeowners and personal umbrella policies can vary in contract language, so always discuss your specific policy with your broker or agent.

Review your policy annually for changes in contract wording that could restrict or exclude coverage. Policies usually contain liability exclusions for expected or intended injury, even if the injury or damage that occurs isof a different type or severity than expected. Fortunately, the Clinton, Conn., teen arrested for building a gun-firing drone didn’t injure anyone. If he had, the question is, would that type of liability have been expected or covered?

THE BOTTOM LINE

Drones are becoming more common all the time. Make sure you know the laws, practice safety and talk to your insurance broker about your coverage needs.

1FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012
22 In 2015, 45 states have so far considered 164 bills related to drones. Nineteen states—Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia—have passed legislation. Four other states—Alaska, Georgia, New Mexico and Rhode Island—have adopted resolutions related to drones.

Insurance services provided through NFP Property & Casualty Services, Inc., doing business in California as NFP Property & Casualty Insurance Services, Inc., License # 0F15715.

This article was originally published in the December/January 2016 issue of Worth.

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