Design professionals frequently use drones (unmanned aerial systems) to help provide professional services. A recent article by Mark A. Dombroff, “Lessons in Liability: Drones 101,” reminds us to consider the regulatory and risk management issues that can arise from your relationship with a third-party drone provider.
First, consider that accidents, while rare, do occur. Drones have collided with a U.S. Army Black Hawk Helicopter, a fan at a baseball park in San Diego, and a jet airplane on its approach to Quebec City airport. In some cases, liability for damages may attach to the entity that hired the drone, especially if they provided direction regarding where and what to inspect.
Dombroff recommends taking the following steps before hiring a vendor for drone-related services:
- Obtain written confirmation that only federally tested and licensed pilots will operate drones on your behalf. As part of this due diligence, be sure to check the certificates of all pilots who will be conducting flights for you as well as their flight records.
- Be sure that the third-party vendor is properly insured to cover drone operation.
- Consider requiring the vendor to add your company to its insurance policy as an additional insured.
- Understand the basic rules pertaining to drone operation under federal regulations: never flown within 5 miles of many airports; kept away from roads and highways; maximum altitude of 400 feet; and never allow drones to get out of operator sight.
Most drone-related exposures are not covered by professional liability insurance. The Schinnerer program covers the professional liability of firms using drones as a tool to perform professional obligations if the underlying cause of action is based on an allegation of negligence in the performance of professional services. There is no coverage if the allegation merely relates to negligence in operating the drone.
For more information on using drones for professional services, download our article on the subject, “Using Drones for Professional Services,” and Michael J. Corso’s paper on drones, “Rise of the Drones: The Integration of Unmanned Aircraft into the National Airspace System,” presented at Schinnerer’s 55th Annual Meeting of Invited Attorneys. Corso’s paper includes sample language that should be included in subcontracts between design professionals and drone operators, including insurance requirements, indemnities, and warranties. (Both resources are password-protected for use by current policyholders and brokers only.)