Drones are becoming a common sight overhead in Queensland. More and more of these miniature aircraft are taking to the skies each day at the hands of hobby pilots, government departments and commercial owners for a variety of applications.
Private hobby drone sales are on the increase and the latest models are able to venture a radius of 7km from the pilot. Research is being conducted into fully automated commercial drone delivery systems by Amazon and Domino’s Pizza that do not require any human intervention on the ground. Amazon has even patented flying ‘warehouse airships’ to act as motherships for delivery drones. Queensland Police are already using piloted drones for forensic investigations, but are seeking to expand their application to police chases, prisoner escapes, search and rescue and covert surveillance operations.
This surge in the number of gizmos in our skies begs the question: What happens when a drone crashes? And who is liable for injury and damage?
A drone crash may result from a mechanical issue or piloting mistake. Untrained or unexperienced pilots, mechanical failures, adverse weather conditions or interferences from powerlines, trees, birds or aircraft could all cause a drone to fall out of the sky causing injury or damage to persons or property. Regardless of the cause of a crash, it will generally be the owner or operator of the craft that will bear responsibility for any damage or loss.
Pilots of recreational drones while not required to be licensed, must follow the safety rules prescribed by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) which apply to all recreational unmanned craft including model airplanes and kites. Such rules restrict the flying of drones to within the operators visual line of sight, in daylight and good visibility, at least 30 meters away from vehicles, boats, buildings or people, away from heavily populated areas and airfields. Breaches of these rules may attract regulatory fines from CASA and may also constitute negligence giving rise to personal liability.
Liability for personal injuries caused by a drone used for recreational purposes will generally fall on the person operating the craft, if it can be shown that they made a mistake or were otherwise negligent. Most individuals do not have insurance to cover them for such liability. This means that although you may be able to sue them in court, they may not have enough money to pay the compensation order the court makes. As awareness increases, more drone users may be inclined to purchase liability insurance in the future to protect themselves.
Operators of commercial drones over 2kg must be certified and licensed by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. Additional permissions must be granted to operate in restricted or controlled areas or outside the operator’s line of sight.
Drones used in commercial applications will generally remain the responsibility of the owner. Liability for injury or damage caused by commercial drones that are piloted automatically or by an employee of a company will fall on the company. Public liability insurance is usually held by companies which would cover compensation claims for negligence.
If you have been injured by a drone, you will be entitled to compensation from the owner or operator if they have been negligent. However, the amount of compensation you can get may depend on whether the person you sue has liability insurance.
Individuals piloting recreational drones will generally be liable for injuries or damage caused by their piloting errors or breaches of regulatory safety rules. Companies will generally be vicariously liable for the negligent actions of their employees while operating commercial drones.
If you have been seriously injured by a drone, seek legal advice as soon as possible. Strict time limits apply to injury compensation claims.
1: Seek appropriate medical treatment for your injuries. It's important that you have a medical practitioner examine your injuries and take medical notes of their diagnosis in case you need to use this later on as evidence.
2: Obtain details and information from persons involved, including:
3: If a serious injury or damage is caused by a drone accident, report it to Police by calling Policelink on 131 444.
4: Report the incident to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority by phoning 1800 074 737.
5: Seek legal advice regarding compensation if your injuries are expected to cause long-term pain and suffering or if they interfere with your ability to earn income.
The regulations imposed by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) do not require the operator of a drone to respect the privacy of others nor do they prohibit a drone being flown over another persons land or filming persons in private or in public.
Under existing laws, it is generally lawful to take still photographs or to film people in a public space without their consent. A photographer can be prevented from filming while on private property, however, it is legal for them to take photographs of or film any person on private property as long as the photographer is on public property or their own property and they are not filming the a person engaged in a private or indecent act or unclothed.
This means that if a drone flies over your backyard and takes pictures of you in your pool or films you through a window eating breakfast you have essentially no legal recourse for breach of privacy.
CASA advises individuals who believe that their privacy, or the privacy of someone else is being breached by the activity of a drone, can report it to police. However, there are limits on what the police can do to enforce an individual’s privacy rights at this stage.
It’s important to get advice for your specific situation. Check if you can make a risk-free compensation claim and get free initial advice from our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith.
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