Understanding the Legal Considerations of Drones

By: Brian R. Gaudet and David S. Lynch

Whether you are using drones or permitting the use of drones on your property, here are the legal considerations you need to know first.

  • Is my use legal?

    • Federal Law governs operation of the drones and pilot requirements.
    • State Laws, to the extent they do not conflict with Federal Law, must also be adhered to.
    • Currently 41 states have state laws governing drones.
    • There has been state drone legislation every year since 2013.
    • State laws may govern privacy issue.

  • Does the drone operator understand the federal AND state legal limits of the drone usage?
  • Does the drone operator understand the non-drone specific laws that might impact the drone usage such as invasion of privacy/improper video recording type laws?
  • Is the operator/pilot in command properly certified by the FAA?
  • Will there be one or more Visual Observers / Spotters?
  • Is there a plan for clearing the overflight area of people and keeping it clear during the drone flight?
  • Have the proper pre-flight checks been done?

    • Drone condition.
    • Weather.
    • Location of people on the ground.
    • Other ground hazards.

  • Has everyone involved been informed about:

    • Operating conditions.
    • Emergency Procedures.
    • Contingency Procedures.
    • Roles and Responsibilities.
    • Potential Hazards.

  • Has proper insurance been obtained?

    • Some polities exclude coverage for unmanned aircraft.
    • Some policies partially include coverage.
    • Some provide coverage.
    • If you are using a drone, or permitting the use of a drone by others, you can not simply assume there is coverage under existing policies.
    • Raise the issue with your broker/agent and review the policies of those using drones on your property.

  • Drone use should be logged.

    • Operators and their qualifications.
    • Visual observers and their locations.
    • The flight plan.
    • The pre-flight check.
    • Notifying everyone at the project site about the drone usage and the areas to avoid.
    • Obtain written permission to use a drone on someone else's property.
    • Log the permission given to use the drone on your property (limits, dates, duration, etc.).

  • 10 days to report certain accidents involving serious injury to any person or loss of consciousness or damage to any property over $500.
  • Various states rules of evidence may preclude you from deleting drone video footage especially if it contains evidence related to a potential legal claim when there is a substantial chance of litigation (i.e. video of the drone colliding with a person or object that causes serious personal injury or property damage).

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