Florida’s new drone law has potential impact on personal injury cases

In a response to surveillance, privacy and safety issues, the Florida legislature enacted a law making certain drone activity illegal.

The use of drones has been on the incline, especially in the past few years. No longer is it limited to the military or considered a concept from a science fiction novel, but used by civilians. A hobby for some, a drone can be purchased online by almost anyone now. However, with this increase in the private use of drones there have been more and more headline-making stories. These include a drone landing on the White House lawn, a drone finding its way into the Louis Armstrong Stadium during the U.S. Open and even a Kentucky man shooting down a neighbor's drone. With this new territory of drones versus personal space, boundaries and First Amendment issues, comes a whole new potential for personal injury lawsuits.

Florida has not been immune to this potential threat of drone-related injuries. In Tampa, Florida, a woman was driving her car when a drone crashed into it. The drone was even suspected of following her vehicle. The need to examine the safety of Florida citizens from drones and the boundaries of surveillance and privacy has become apparent.

The Freedom from Unwanted Surveillance Act

Florida state legislators took notice of this need and enacted a new drone law that went into effect on July 1, 2015. Florida Statute Section 934.50 can also be cited as the "Freedom from Unwanted Surveillance Act." Already controversial, there are critics who are urging for amendments during the 2016 legislative session. Governor Rick Scott initially signed Section 934.50 into legislation on May 14, 2015. Under Florida's new drone act, a drone is considered to be "a powered, aerial vehicle that:

  1. Does not carry a human operator;
  2. Uses aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift;
  3. Can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely;
  4. Can be expendable or recoverable; and
  5. Can carry a lethal or nonlethal payload."

In a nutshell, the act prohibits the use of a drone by private citizens, law enforcement and even state agencies for the purposes of taking pictures or video without the private property owner's written consent. For example, a police officer is not allowed to use a drone to gather evidence. A person is not allowed to take his or her drone and take pictures of a neighbor's yard. Only with written consent would these types of actions be permitted. These restrictions all stem from a person's reasonable expectation of privacy.

However, there are exceptions carved out in the act for situations such as public safety concerns (risk for a terroristic threat or attack), environmental monitoring, property assessments, aerial mapping and certain insurance purposes.

How this possibly affects injury and privacy lawsuits in Florida

With a broad-sweeping law, many uses of drones are now considered an illegal act. When an illegal act causes a serious injury or wrongful death, the potential for a personal injury lawsuit becomes a much stronger possibility. In addition, the act specifically lays out remedies for a person if they have been violated by the illegal use of a drone. A civil action for both compensatory and punitive damages can be sought, in addition to attorney's fees.

Considering this brand new law and uncharted territory of drone injury cases in Florida, it is best to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer if you believe you have been injured due to the illegal use of a drone.