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Drones fun but risky, pose insurance questions

Thursday, December 7, 2017by  Jon Osterberg

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Man flies a remote-control droneThe Federal Aviation Administration projects drone sales to reach 7 million in 2020, raising safety concerns and consumer queries about drones and liability.

This follows the first confirmed midair crash between a drone and a manned aircraft, a Black Hawk helicopter patrolling New York City in September.

Hobbyists might not worry about flying a drone high enough to collide with aircraft. But what if you accidentally thump your drone onto a passing car, startling the driver and causing a crash? Or you smash one through a neighbor's window? Or you fly it too close to the neighbors' windows, and they accuse you of being a peeping Tom?

If you flew the drone carelessly, or if it malfunctioned, you could be held liable for injuries or damages.

PEMCO's homeowners policy likely would cover damage or injury caused by one of our customers flying a wayward drone, unless the act was intentional. The Northwest Insurance Council says the same generally applies to most other insurers, although some companies specifically exclude liability for drone damages.

Our advice: If you get a drone, verify your insurance coverage before you fly it.

Additionally, if you buy a drone for business purposes – not just to buzz it around the local playground – you'll need to find commercial insurance coverage. That's different from the protection that comes with a homeowner or renter policy. Check with a commercial broker.

My friend Jason in north Idaho flies drones for profit, shooting aerial video. His homeowners insurer excludes drone coverage, requiring him to look elsewhere. Jason is an FAA-licensed drone pilot who must follow FAA guidelines for unmanned aircraft.

D rone hovers outside a home, peeping inside the bedroom windowIt's a good idea for new pilots to hone their skills at flying a drone, rather than just learning by trial and error. You'll find a helpful online resource at Know Before You Fly, aimed at consumer flyers.

Using caution is wise with drones. Last month, the nonprofit World Against Toys Causing Harm included a drone on its top 10 list of dangerous toys for the holidays.

Further, last month the FAA cited a new study saying that jet engines are likely to suffer more serious damage from small drones than from a similar-sized bird.

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