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March 2017 Bulletin: Malpractice

When it Comes to Drones... Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

Kathleen Finnerty Schroth

— Kathleen Finnerty-Schroth, CIC

Drones are becoming more of an everyday phenomenon and are being incorporated into business ventures, scientific pursuits, film and fun. Enthusiasts should be aware that these devices may not be well received by business establishments, secure locations and formerly friendly neighbors. It is quite possible your “recreational” use of a drone may cause damage, invade privacy or be interpreted as a threat. Should an allegation arise after your use of a drone, your Homeowners Insurance may or may not be a source for some coverage.

image of drone

It is best to check with your Homeowners Insurance provider before taking that drone out of the box. There are likely to be insurance gaps in your insurance protection, especially if you—or one of your children—operate a camera-enabled drone and perhaps buzz your neighbor’s yard or cruise over a commercial establishment that values its trade secrets.

Homeowner policies may protect against property damage and some injuries, but not invasion of privacy claims. With 1.6 million drones sold in 2015, and the volume of drones expected to triple by 2020, the possibility of new and more inventive ways of using these unmanned aerial vehicles will give rise to many more allegations of privacy invasion, stalking, property damage, bodily injury and personal injury damages. In particular, two common-law invasion of privacy claims are likely to rise, intrusion upon seclusion and publication of private facts (Hilton & Shaw, December 2016).

At the very least, if you were to be using your drone and accidentally happened to hover outside a window, you could be charged with intrusion upon seclusion. And, if you were then to inadvertently broadcast that footage of your neighbor on your blog, you could also be charged with publication of private facts. In addition to requiring registration of drones, many states are now passing additional privacy laws specifically addressing UAVs.

Be aware of changes in the law addressing these enticing gadgets before you take one out for a spin. Know that a typical Homeowners policy and Commercial General Liability policy may not cover these exposures, though the inurance industry may very well develop new products for this risk.

*Ryan K. Hilton, James Michael Shaw, Jr. (2016, December 19). If you invade someone's privacy with a drone, your insurance might not cover it. Retrieved February 27, 2017, Property Casualty 360, ALM Media

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