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Personal Injury and Property Damage with Drones

Litigation

From Berman Fink Van Horn

Although drones (aka unmanned aircraft systems) can come in small sizes (e.g., https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/micro-drone-3-0-flight-in-the-palm-of-your-hand-drones-gadgets–4#/), the propellers on drones and flying drone parts can inflict serious, sometimes irreparable damage.  The eyes seem particularly vulnerable. Below is a list of some known injuries and the legal consequences.

  • Full Thickness Corneal Laceration. This spring 2017, a products liability suit was filed against Parrott SA, its related companies, and component manufacturers to recover for injuries allegedly caused by Parrott’s Rolling Spider, an “ultra-compact mini-drone” that fits in the palm of the hand and is designed for both indoor and outdoor use. According to those who have seen the complaint, the plaintiff alleges that he purchased the drone for his son for Christmas in 2014, and that while the son was operating it “in an appropriate and anticipated manner in the home when the drone’s unguarded blade came into contact with [the father’s] left eye.”  The plaintiff alleges “full thickness corneal laceration” that required emergency surgery and an extended recovery. Richard T. Jacky and Tamsin Jacky v. Parrot, S.A. et al., Denver District Court, 2017CVCV31101.  The case is just now getting underway.
  • Loss of Eye. In Fall 2015, a toddler (18mos. old) in England lost his eye when it was sliced open by a propeller after the operator lost control of the drone. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-hereford-worcester-34936739.  This appears to be the most tragic drone injury so far.
  • Knocked Unconscious; criminal conviction. In Seattle, Washington, in Fall 2015, a woman was knocked unconscious when drone weighing about two pounds crashed into a building and ricocheted, hitting her in the head. The drone operator was charged with reckless endangerment and was recently sentenced to 30 days in jail, which is apparently being appealed. http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/crime/pilot-of-drone-that-struck-woman-at-pride-parade-sentenced-to-30-days-in-jail/
  • Facial Lacerations. In Pasadena, California, in September 2015, a drone hit an 11 month old girl in a stroller, apparently causing a contusion and cutting her face. See article in LA Times, September 16, 2016, by Dan Weikel. And a reporter was cut under her chin during a promotion by TGI Fridays. She stated, “If this thing continued to spin, it would’ve taken my eye out without a doubt.” http://www.businessinsider.com/tgi-fridays-mistletoe-drone-accident-2014-12
  • In South Africa, a drone crashed through the fifth story window of an office striking an occupant in the head. http://www.flysafeguard.com/drone-incidents/drone-crashes-fifth-story-window-unsuspecting-mans-head/
  • A cyclist went head-over handle bars after a drone crashed or hit his bike. Head-over–handlebars injuries have been known to result in acute spinal injuries. http://unofficialnetworks.com/2017/05/10/drone-hits-cyclist-during-race-leading-to-nasty-crash/
  • In December 2016, two wedding guests filed a lawsuit against their hosts in Rockingham, North Carolina, Superior Court alleging physical and emotional injuries after a drone crashed into them during the reception. http://www.eagletribune.com/news/wedding-drone-crash-leads-to-guests-lawsuit/article_9bdf14d4-c3bd-11e6-87dc-0752f3c938b6.html

As these stories illustrate, drones can cause significant injuries through direct contact or  indirectly. Video of drone-blade-impact tests can be seen at  http://www.en.aau.dk/news/show-news/research-catapult-tests-the-dangers-of-drones.cid252892.