What Experts Do You Need in a Drone Case?

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Written by
— Updated on June 25, 2020

What Experts Do You Need in a Drone Case?

Drone Expert Witness

As drones become more popular and affordable, their use also becomes more widespread – and so does the potential for their involvement in a larger number of accidents.
Drone accident and malfunction cases often demand the attention of an expert witness who can discuss specifics of drone manufacture, design, and operation knowledgeably. Here, we take a closer look at drone accident and malfunction cases and the expert witnesses that may be needed to make a strong claim.

The Rise in Drone Accident Cases

During the 2017 Christmas season, nearly 1.6 million drones were purchased – an increase of 31 percent from the previous year’s holiday gift-giving season. In 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released final guidance on commercial use of drones, opening the doors for a number of businesses to use the devices in their work. During the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, for example, several dozen drones piloted by insurance company employees or contractors were used to examine rooftops and provide evidence for damage claims.

In recent years, however, several drone accidents have been reported in the United States. In 2017, a small drone crashed through a window of a Manhattan Kate Spade boutique. Fortunately, no one was injured during this incident, but other drone accidents have caused severe and sometimes life-threatening damages. A drone crashing in Inyo County, California, was cited as the cause of a small wildfire. When a drone hit a power line in Mountain View, California, 1,600 residents were left without electrical service for several hours.

Privacy and Drones: A Growing Issue

The number of cases alleging violation of privacy via drone has increased exponentially in recent years. Many drones come equipped with cameras or audiovisual recording devices, and their small size and easy maneuverability make it relatively simple for drone operators to send the devices into places the operator could not bodily go – and causing a privacy violation as a result.

The FAA isn’t the only government agency to address the rise in drone use. Many countries have set height requirements on drone flight, many of which are at or near 400 feet. Some countries, however, have no such limits – which means that pilots can fly their drones into the cruising space of commercial airlines, as one Russian drone pilot did in March 2018.

In addition, while the FAA expanded commercial drone use options, rules about privacy remain in place. Companies accused of violating these rules may need to consult an expert witness in order to establish the specifics of their drone’s capabilities, the proper application of the FAA’s regulations, and more.

Drone Experts: Which Expert Witnesses Do You Need in a Drone Case?

Once a notion for amusement, “drone experts” are becoming serious participants in drone accident and malfunction cases.
A drone expert witness typically has extensive experience with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones. They may have a deep background in the hardware and software used to control drones or have knowledge about how drones behave in real-world conditions, facing problems like wind shear or precipitation. In addition, drone experts may be well-versed in FAA rules and regulations, as well as state and local rules about drone use.
The specific expertise a drone expert witness needs depends on the case, just as it does for other experts. For instance, lawsuits may involve disputes over FAA compliance, registration, injuries caused by drones, privacy violations by drones, or other alleged harms. An expert who can explain the complexities of drones and their regulation in clear, simple, accurate terms for a judge or jury can help establish a clear case.
But while the number of drones in the skies and cases on the docket continues to rise, questions about who qualifies as a “drone expert” often remain open. Here, careful attention to qualifications and meticulous preparation of the expert witness can help ensure that his or her contribution to the case is not dismissed, denied, or overlooked.

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