UAV liability could be assessed in same way as stolen cars

Published: February 8, 2018

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Luke Jones

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Speaking at a claims conference on Tuesday, a legal insurance expert suggested unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) could be subject to the same liability laws as parked stolen vehicles. Specifically, liability risks for UAVs could be affected by past court rulings in vehicle cases and commercial drone users will take more liability than hobby flyers.

“A lot of things could go wrong with respect to the use of drones,” Christina Polano, a partner with Thomas Gold Pettingill. She offered her opinion at the 51st annual joint conference of the Ontario chapters of the Canadian Insurance Claims Managers Association (CICMA) and the Canadian Independent Adjusters’ Association (CIAA).

Drones have similar ability of cars to cause major damage or injury. If a drone crashes it could cause severe injury, while UAVs can interfere with airplanes while they are landing or taking off.

“As long as there is some reasonable expectation that the activity that somebody’s engaging in could harm somebody else, there is a good chance that liability will be applied,” Polano said.

Polano says courts may use the Anns test when dealing with drone lawsuits. The Anns test is a series of questions posed by judges to decide if a defendant is liable in a case. It was created after a British House of Lords decision in 1977. Among the questions in the Anns test is whether the harm suffered by the plaintiff was a “reasonably foreseeable consequence” of the defendant’s act, the Supreme Court of Canada noted in Cooper v. Hobart, released in 2001.

“I think that, just like the stolen vehicle cases, the courts are going to be a lot more apt to apply liability to commercial drone users then they are to recreational drone users–or at least they are going to take a harsher line with commercial drone users and in particular, those are the drone users that should have insurance on their drone,” Polano said.