Just when you thought it was safe to go outside, here come the drones! Drones are not just for the U.S. military to target foreign terrorists anymore. They are being tested for use by Amazon to deliver packages, by real estate agents to take aerial photos of homes, by search and rescue crews to quickly and more extensively look for lost individuals, for media coverage, and by others to enable them to view otherwise inaccessible areas for safety or other reasons. But these are also the newest toys in town, especially for amateur aviators, and can be purchased by nearly anyone from $50 to thousands of dollars for more sophisticated users. Drones have the ability to fly at altitudes well over 400 feet and can approach speeds of 140 miles per hour.
Some people who purchase drones may race them in organized competitions but many users simply fly them often at altitudes of hundreds of feet for recreation or may attach cameras to them to take unique photographs for weddings or for their own appreciation. However, product defect and human error can cause these devices to collide with commercial and other aircraft and lead to serious injuries, or they can malfunction and fall and endanger those on the ground. When injuries do occur, contact an experienced Massachusetts drone accident lawyer.
Drone Encounters in Massachusetts
There have been a number of near-misses with aircraft by drones. Recently, a helicopter operated by Massachusetts State Police came within a hundred feet of a small drone while flying over the Lawrence Municipal Airport. Fortunately, the pilot was able to quickly evade the drone or it would have struck the windshield and possibly led to a catastrophic accident.
The near collision occurred at an elevation of 600 feet. Drones are prohibited from flying over 400 feet and cannot be flown within 5 miles of an airport, which put the user in violation of FAA rules. Further, any drone that is heavier than 55 pounds must be registered with the FAA. The pilots estimated the offending Lawrence, Massachusetts drone was about 2 to 3 feet in length. After the near-miss, the drone quickly descended. Its operator has not been found.
Other incidents have included a drone flying into the face of a wedding photographer and severing the tip of his nose. A drone flying over a grandstand at the Virginia Motorsports Park a few years ago crashed into the stands, injuring a number of individuals. Drug smugglers are apparently using the technology to evade detection. In January of 2015, DEA agents discovered a downed drone at the Mexico- U.S. border that was carrying 6 pounds of methamphetamine.
Negligent use of drones is not uncommon. An analysis of drones implicated in encounters with commercial aircraft or which were determined to be violating FAA regulations was conducted by researchers at Bard College. The study reviewed 921 recorded incidents over a 2-year period and found that over 90% of these incidents occurred above 400 feet and that over 50% of them were within 5 miles of an airport.
One drone actually collided with a Canadian commercial twin-engine prop aircraft in October of 2017. The drone struck the airplane at 1,500 feet. Although it only caused minor damage, Canadian officials said the encounter could have been much worse. Canadian law prohibits drones flying within 5.6 miles of an airport and limits their altitude to 300 feet. A violation can result in a fine of $25,000.
Injuries Caused by Drones
As you can see, drones are manually operated and can easily fall from heights of several hundred feet because of operator error, weather conditions, or a malfunction in the device or can collide with other aircraft. Drones have whirling blades and since they can travel at speeds of over 100 mph, a collision can lead to tragic consequences.
Injuries can cause:
- Facial injuries
- Broken bones
- Head trauma including traumatic brain injury
Responsibility for Injuries
You have recourse against a number of parties if you suffered an injury from a drone. These include:
- Drone operator. Operators are expected to know that drones cannot be flown above 400 feet and must be vigilant if there are crowds in the area. Some injuries have occurred at weddings or festivals where there is a higher risk of injury in case of operator error. Further, if the operator was impaired at the time, then liability becomes even more evident.
- Design manufacturer or designer. An examination of the device by an expert may reveal a defect in design or manufacture.
- Drone seller. If instructions on use or warnings on how to use the drone are insufficient or lacking, then the seller or distributor may be held liable if there is a a link between the injury and the insufficiency of the warnings or instructions.
- Drone owner. An owner may have permitted another person to operate the drone and did not ensure that the person knew how to safely operate the device.
- Property owner. Property owners who allow drones to operate on their property without restrictions or instructions on their use or failed to ensure the operator was properly trained and experienced, especially if there is an event attended by dozens of individuals, may be responsible to some degree for any injuries that occur from a drone. They may be responsible for any negligence of their guest.
Establishing liability in some cases can be difficult. It is essential in these cases to retain a drone accident lawyer who has experience in drone accident claims.
Damages for a Drone Accident
You can pursue compensation from a drone operator under that person’s homeowner’s insurance. Of course, designers, manufacturers, and distributors are generally either self-insured or have adequate resources.
Damages in an injury accident may include:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future income loss
- Emotional distress
- Loss of earning capacity
- Diminished quality of life
- Permanent disability or disfigurement
- Spousal claim for loss of consortium
Call the Law Office of Burns and Jain at 617-227-7423 if you or a loved one was injured in a Massachusetts drone accident. You can find a Massachusetts personal injury accident lawyer at our offices who can properly advise and represent you in these matters.