Drones were a popular gift during the holidays. The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that approximately 800,000 recreational drones were sold in the last quarter of 2015. However, despite being recreational, drones are not toys. In fact, drones are considered aircraft under federal law and must be registered with the FAA if they weigh more than .55 pounds (250 g).
The growing number of drone owners with no prior aviation experience or knowledge about operating requirements has caused a dramatic increase in reports of potentially unsafe operations, from 238 reports in 2014 to 1,133 in 2015. Given their size and speed, an improperly operated drone can easily cause serious bodily injury or property damage.
When this happens, the owner or operator may be held personally liable. Would this kind of drone-related claim be covered under a standard homeowners’ insurance policy? The answer is yes…probably, at least for now.
Unfortunately, a more definitive answer is not possible since recreational drones are not specifically mentioned in standard homeowners’ policies. After all, they were virtually nonexistent until recently, so there was no need.
Nevertheless, it looks like standard homeowners’ policies would cover drone-related claims. Standard policies generally cover damages an insured becomes legally obligated to pay because of bodily injury or property damage, which would be the case if a drone accidentally hits a neighbor’s car or head.
It’s also unlikely that any of the policy’s standard exclusions would automatically apply to a drone-related claim. It’s true that standard policies typically exclude coverage for claims arising out of the ownership or use of an aircraft. However, model or hobby aircraft are generally not considered ‘aircraft’ under the policy, so this exclusion likely wouldn’t apply to recreational drones.
However, the lack of a specific exclusion doesn’t mean recreational drones are always covered. Other exclusions may apply. For example, drones used for business purposes, rather than as a hobby, would be considered ‘aircraft’ under the policy’s aircraft exclusion, so there would be no coverage. There would also be no coverage if the bodily injury or property damage caused by a drone was expected or intended.
For the time being, insurance companies appear to be treating recreational drone-related claims like any other mishap, but this may change as the number of drones and drone-related claims steadily increase. Given the lack of clarity and uniformity in this rapidly-developing area, it’s probably a good idea to find out if drone-related claims are covered under your homeowners’ insurance policy before heading off into the wild blue yonder.
Finally, remember to register your drone. As of December 21, 2015, drones weighing more than 0.55 pounds (250 g) must register with the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) registry before they can be flown outdoors. Drones weighing less than 55 pounds can be registered online. Failure to register a drone can result in civil (up to $27,500) and criminal penalties.
Please contact us if you would like more information about homeowners’ insurance coverage for drone-related claims.
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