The personal and commercial use of drones in the U.S. has grown rapidly within the last five years and that growth is expected to continue. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates the number of drones in the U.S. to reach seven million by 2020. Commercial drones, or drones used to make money, are expected to increase from 600,000 in 2016 to over 2.7 million by 2020.
While increased drone usage will surely bring new and exciting economic opportunity for business, more drones in the sky will also bring more risk for drone crashes and drone injuries. Drones are equipped with multiple sharp metallic blades that can easily inflict serious damage to a person or property.
The law firm of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman is familiar with the damage that can be caused in drone crashes. Personal injuries, car crashes, helicopter accidents, plane crashes and property damage are just a few examples of major accidents that can happen as a result of a drone collision.
If you have been harmed in a drone accident, it is in your best interest to speak with an attorney about the circumstances surrounding the incident. The drone lawyers at Baum Hedlund will fight for compensation on your behalf to hold any negligent parties responsible for your drone injuries.
For more information on filing a drone lawsuit, please fill out our contact form.
What is a Drone?
While the general public uses the term drone, the industry term is Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) or Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle (UAV). A drone is an aircraft without a pilot onboard instead, a person operates the aircraft from the ground. Drones vary widely in size and weight; they can be as small as a magazine or as large as a Boeing 737.
What Are Drones Used For?
Drones are generally used for three different purposes: public, civil and recreation. Public use includes operations for the U.S. government where the FAA issues a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) permitting use. Civil use is defined as a commercial, non-governmental operation and requires approval via a Section 333 exception (more on this below) or Special Airworthiness Certificate (SAC) from the FAA. Drone use by hobbyists is the most prevalent in the U.S. today, and while FAA approval is not generally required in order to fly the most common drones, there are specific guidelines that recreational drone users must follow.
Five Common Drone Uses
- Attack Drones – Armed with weapons, these drones are used by the military for controlled air strikes in hostile or inaccessible areas.
- Crowd Control Drones – Commonly used by the military and law enforcement agencies, crowd control drones are equipped with non-lethal weapons like tear gas or sound cannons. These drones can initiate crowd dispersion without causing serious physical harm.
- Delivery Drones – Delivery drones were initially developed for military and government use, so users could remotely drop items in a chosen area. By now, many of us have heard that companies like DHL and Amazon want to make delivery drones the new normal for delivering products to consumers. If used safely and effectively, delivery drones could effectively cut down on shipping time, minimize cost and reduce traffic congestion.
- Monitoring Drones – Equipped with technology like infrared cameras and severe weather instruments, monitoring drones can be used for anything from scientific research to preventing crime. For example, a monitoring drone is capable of getting closer than a police helicopter, so these drones have numerous crime fighting capabilities. They can also assist fire officials in fighting wild fires. Last, but not least, monitoring drones can be used for scientific research purposes, like seeing firsthand what it looks like inside a tornado.
- Photo or Video Drones – Ever popular in the art of filmmaking, photo and video drones are making aerial shots more affordable than ever before. It used to be that filmmakers would have to hire helicopters or small planes to get the footage they needed. Now, even amateur filmmakers can simply attach a GoPro camera to a drone and get stunning aerial photography on par with the big movie studios.
Recent Drone Crashes
The increased popularity of drones has also increased the risk for drone crashes and drone injuries. Below are some of the most serious civilian drone accidents reported in the last few years:
January 2015 – Drone crash lands on White House lawn. Operator Shawn Usman borrowed a quadcopter drone from a friend and was flying it from a window in his downtown Washington D.C. apartment at around 3:00 a.m. when he says it ascended to an altitude of 100 feet, then flew in a westerly direction. Usman tried to regain control, but couldn’t. The quadcopter drone crashed on White House grounds. No one was injured, but the Secret Service was forced to put the White House on lockdown as a precaution. The U.S. attorney didn’t charge Usman, finding that the drone was not under his control when it crashed.
September 2015 – Drone crashes within feet of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A member of the German ‘Pirate Party’ piloted a drone that crashed only a few feet away from Angela Merkel while she was delivering a speech. The drone pilot was protesting government surveillance. No one was injured, but the incident did bring up questions about how drones can impact safety and security.
December 2014 – Drone crashes into a customer at a New York City restaurant. A New York City restaurant was using a drone to fly mistletoe over customers when it crashed into their photographer. The fast moving, sharp blades sliced off a piece of her nose and cut her chin.
April 2014 – Australian triathlete sustains injuries after drone crash. Raija Ogden, an Australian triathlete, was injured when a drone crashed into her while she was competing in the Geraldton Endure Batavia triathlon in Western Australia. A videographer was using the drone to film footage of the race when he lost control of the aircraft. He claims that a spectator in the crowd stole control of the drone, causing it to crash.
August 2013 – Drone crashes into grandstand at Virginia’s Great Bull Run. At least four spectators at the Virginia Motorsports Park for the Great Bull Run were injured when a drone crashed into the grandstand. The aerial photography drone was hovering above the stands when it suddenly fell from the sky into the crowd.
Drone Near Misses
According to FAA statistics, pilots reported over 700 drone near misses between January and August of 2015, roughly triple the amount for the entire year of 2014. FAA documents also showed that at least a dozen drones had interfered with military aircraft flying near U.S. bases or restricted areas over the same time span.
December 2015 – Drone flies approximately five feet away from a helicopter in California.The helicopter was at an altitude of 1,000 feet when the pilot reported seeing a UAS as close as five feet from the chopper.
November 2015 – Drone nearly collides with helicopter leaving St. Louis Children’s Hospital.A medical helicopter pilot reported seeing a drone about 1,400 feet above a city park. The air ambulance was forced to make a sweeping turn, narrowly avoiding a drone crash by less than 100 feet.
September 2015 – American Airlines pilots forced to take evasive action to avoid drone. In one of the scariest drone near misses reported to date, the pilots of American Airlines Flight 475 were forced to take evasive action to avoid colliding with a drone after taking off from Atlanta, Georgia. The plane was climbing to 3,500 feet when the drone incident occurred.
March 2015 – FAA investigates drone flying too close to KOMO News helicopter. A helicopter crew working for KOMO News in Washington spotted a drone flying only a few feet above the chopper. The helicopter was filming a fire in Pierce County at the time.
December 2014 – Drone nearly hits Airbus A320 during approach to Heathrow Airport. The pilot of an Airbus A320 said the drone nearly hit the plane while at an altitude of about 700 feet. A total of 180 people were onboard at the time. Investigators were unable to identify the drone, as it didn’t show up on radar and disappeared after the incident.
FAA Drone Regulations
On June 21, 2016, the FAA released long awaited operational rules for routine commercial use of small drones. The recently proposed FAA drone regulations are scheduled to take effect in August of 2016. One new drone law in particular, Part 107, offers safety regulations for UAS that conduct commercial operations and for drones that weigh less than 55 pounds.
The new drone regulations establish the following key requirements:
- Per the new FAA drone regulations, drone operators must always avoid manned aircraft and never operate in a careless or reckless manner.
- According to the FAA, drone pilots need to keep unmanned aircraft within visual line of sight. If the drone pilot uses ‘First Person View’ or similar technology, the pilot must have a visual observer always maintain unaided sight (no binoculars). However, even if the pilot uses a visual observer, the drone must still remain close enough to see, in the event that something unexpected happens. Neither the drone pilot nor a visual observer can be responsible for more than one UAS operation at a time.
- Operations are only allowed in daylight hours or during twilight (30 minutes before scheduled sunrise and 30 minutes after scheduled sunset, local time), provided the drone is equipped with “anti-collision lights.”
- Maximum altitude a drone can reach is 400 feet, higher if the drone remains within 400 feet of a structure. Maximum speed is 100 miles-per-hour.
- Per the FAA drone regulations, pilots cannot fly over anyone not directly participating in the operation. Likewise, operators cannot fly under a covered structure or inside a covered stationary vehicle.
- Drone pilots flying in Class G airspace are permitted to do so without permission from air traffic control. Drone pilots flying in Class B, C, D or E airspace need approval from air traffic control.
- According to the FAA, drone operators can affix an external load to the aircraft, provided the load is securely attached and does not adversely affect flight. Operators may also transport cargo for compensation within state boundaries, as long as the total of the attached systems, payload and cargo weigh less than 55 pounds (Some state exemptions apply, see Part 107 for full details).
Drone Waivers for Business
Businesses that wish to use drones outside of the above restrictions can apply for a waiver through the FAA.To qualify for a waiver, businesses must prove that their proposed drone use is safe.
According to FAA administrator Michael Huerta, 76 businesses have been approved for these waivers, most of which allow businesses to operate commercial drones after dark.
Commercial Drone Pilot Certification
Per FAA drone regulations, in order to operate a commercial drone under Part 107, you must obtain a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating, or be under the supervision of someone who has the certification. To qualify for a remote pilot airman certification, a person 16 years of age or older must do one of two things:
1) Pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge center or 2) If you already have a Part 61 pilot certificate (other than student pilot certificate), you must have completed a flight review within the previous 24 months, and you must take an FAA UAS training course.
Recreational Drone Operators
Anyone who wishes to fly a drone recreationally does not have to have the FAA’s permission, as long as a few requirements are met. Per FAA drone regulations, recreational drone operators must register their UAS if it weighs more than .55 pounds and less than 55 pounds. Operators are also required to label their UAS with their registration number, and read and understand all drone safety guidelines.
Recreational drone operators are required to keep their drone in their line of site and always be aware of airspace requirements. They are also forbidden from violating these restrictions:
- Flying UAS in excess of 400 feet
- Flying UAS near other aircraft or airports
- Flying UAS over groups of people
- Flying UAS over stadiums or other public gatherings
- Flying UAS near emergency response units
- Flying UAS under the influence of drugs or alcohol
Drone No Fly Zone
Federal drone laws prohibit UAS from flying in specific areas. Drone no fly zones include:
Airports – Drone pilots must stay at least five miles away from airports. Municipal guidelines require recreational drone pilots to give notice if they are going to be flying within five miles of an airport. This advanced notice must be reported to the airport operator or air traffic control tower (if the airport has one).
Temporary Flight Restrictions – The FAA uses TFR to restrict flights in specific areas. Some TFRs have become permanent, such as the one around Disneyland, for example. But most are based on an event, such as a wildfire, an air show, or a when the President pays a visit to a town. The FAA publishes TFRs so operators can be aware of these drone no fly zones, though there are unpublished TFRs for activities like sporting events.
Prohibited and Restricted Airspace – Prohibited airspace includes areas like the White House and Camp David, for example. Restricted airspace is typically in and around military bases or areas where flight is considered hazardous.
National Parks – Launching, landing or operating drones on lands and waters that are administered by the National Park Service is prohibited.
NOAA Marine Protection Areas – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration prohibits certain flights of powered aircraft (including drones) over protected areas.
If you have been injured in a drone accident, you may be wondering about your rights. While drone law is new and constantly changing at the federal and state level, in many cases, negligent drone operators and/or manufacturers of defective drones may be held liable for any injuries caused in certain drone crashes.
In order to obtain justice in a drone lawsuit, it must be proven that the drone operator was negligent by failing to act with reasonable care, and that negligence was the cause of the drone crash that resulted in injuries. Likewise, if a drone maker is to be named in a drone lawsuit, it must be proven that the company provided inadequate instructions for operation, insufficient safety controls, or manufactured a defective product.
If your drone lawsuit is successful, it is possible to recover losses stemming from medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering.
Steps to Filing a Drone Lawsuit
In order to file a drone lawsuit, it is vital that you do the following:
- If possible, write down the drone’s registration number and file a police report to document the incident.
- After seeking medical attention, be sure to collect all documentation related to your treatment.
- Collect contact information for those who witnessed the drone accident.
- Contact the drone lawyers at Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman.
Why Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman is the Right Law Firm to File Your Drone Lawsuit
Baum Hedlund has successfully handled thousands of personal injury and wrongful death cases, securing over $4 billion on behalf of our clients across the nation. Our personal injury attorneys have litigated against some of the corporations in the world, including aircraft manufacturers, airlines, medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies. With decades of experience, our firm has developed a reputation for improving product safety, influencing public policy and holding Fortune 500 companies accountable.