We see them everywhere, the new multi-purpose “eye in the sky” that serves a number of purposes for federal, professional and personal use.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more commonly known as drones are a type of unmanned aircraft that uses multiple rotors to hover, fly and twist through the air. It’s like the new toy plane for grown-ups, but this is far from a toy, and the damage can be steep.
Although drones are designed to avoid buildings with built-in anti-collision technology, sometimes, that technology can fail. According to ClassAction.com, “technical flaws are still the most common cause of drone collisions.”
The Insurance Information Institute (III) brings up a crucial point, stating that “most drone operators start out with little or no aviation experience.” This can mean serious losses should you fall on the receiving end of pilot error or equipment failure.
[ Read: The Best Homeowners Insurance Companies ]
There are, of course, user precautions and limitations in place: you cannot fly your drone above 400 feet, within five miles of an airport, over disaster areas or over crowds and specific objects. If a drone weighs over 55 pounds, the owner is required to register with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). However, the specific laws for drone usage vary based on your local ordinance.
This can make it very hard to figure out who is at fault and what is covered when there is an incident in your home, such as a drone crashing through a window. It’s especially worrisome given that the FAA estimates that there are more than seven million drones in use in the U.S.
“As drone coverage is not always clear, the rise in the recreational uses of drones has provided much discomfort and concerns regarding privacy for some people,” explains Tal Shelef, Realtor and Co-Founder of Condo Wizard. “Along with the rise of popularity comes the increase of drone-related accidents, as well.”
So what damages can a drone cause exactly, and why is this an issue for your homeowner insurance? We talked to the experts to find out.
[ Read: The Best Drone ]
How Common Is It for Drones to Hit Homes
In 2018, drones flying near England’s Gatwick Airport resulted in absolute chaos, as the airport canceled hundreds of flights that stranded thousands of passengers. The year before, drones had made the news when one crashed into a commercial aircraft over Canada. And of course, there was 2015 when a drone crashed on the White House lawn, sending the whole White House into lockdown.
These are just the accidents we have heard about. With so many drones in the sky, and with that number expected to increase rapidly in the coming years, we have to accept that drones – and their accidents – are a new way of life.
Today, drones are commonly used for many different purposes
- Real estate
- Property surveying
- Gutter cleaning
- Special event photography/videography
- Security and defense
- Emergency response
- Waste management
- Insurance inspections
Any of the situations could easily bring an errant drone into contact with your home.
Drones are highly susceptible to weather patterns, and newer owners may not realize the power of a windy day. It is far too easy for a drone to catch a wind current and lose control, leaving you powerless to control it and protect the people and structures around you. Not only can a drone fly in your window, but it could connect with a tree or power line that could still have unwanted effects on your home.
What Damages can a drone cause?
Even with small drones, the spinning propellers can easily create harm to items in its path.
Malfunctions happen all of the time, whether it is due to user or device error. No matter the cause, the III warns that “ rogue drones can pose a significant threat to people and property” to the tune of several thousands of dollars and even legal action.
There are several types of damage as far as your insurance is concerned:
- Property damage, such as flying your drone through a person’s window
- Bodily injury, which applies when you injure a person
- Personal injury, which deals with physical personal injuries and/or a violation of personal rights
- Third-party liability, which applies when there is a commercial license for drones operated by companies.
In the specific case of a drone flying through your window, you could claim personal injury, as this would inflict physical damages to your person or property while also impacting your reasonable right to privacy within your own home.
There is also the legal issue of privacy, as the aggrieved could file a lawsuit for additional damages. Precedent has already been set here.
Will Insurance Pay for a Drone-Related Accident?
Drones aren’t just popular for personal use; they are a legitimate tool used by countless businesses across the globe.
Benjamin Nguyen is the owner of Full Color Cleaners in Austin, Texas, where he frequently uses drones to conduct services, such as gutter cleaning. “Home insurance does cover damages caused by your drone. It also depends on what’s covered and stated in the coverage,” he says.
“Some home insurance may not cover the drone damage to the property or only set a limit amount that they’ll cover,” he explains. “This is why homeowners need to check the rules and regulations before they buy and operate a drone. You can check your homeowner’s insurance by looking under aircraft and radio-controlled aircraft and see if they include or exclude drones.”
After all, he speaks from personal experience. “Will the home insurance also cover the damage to the drone? In my recent accident, it didn’t. This is because the drone wasn’t damaged by a natural occurrence, such as a hurricane or fire.”
That means if the drone is yours, it could cost you.
“You won’t find the word aircraft in most home insurance policies,” says Jack Choros, a freelance finance writer for the Sophisticated Investor. “These incidences aren’t very common yet, and if you do have to make a claim because a drone crashed into your house, it may be that you can only really claim insurance on the drone itself if you happen to purchase that.”
For the policies that do cover drone accidents, Choros warns that it may not be worth your while. “Remember that your deductible might cost you more than the drone is worth, however, so be careful with making a claim.”
Shelef has seen it before. “When it comes to property accidents caused by drones, the standard homeowners policy will cover that,” he explains, “but of course, there may be certain limitations caused by policy exclusions. If you are a victim, or even if you are not, it pays to familiarize yourself with the homeowners policies and inclusions your property falls under.”
What to Do if a Drone Strikes Your House
As more and more drones fill the air, it becomes more likely that one could strike your home.
If that happens, this is what you should do.
- Assess the damage.
In some cases, it is easier and cheaper to fix repairs yourself instead of filing a claim and facing steep deductibles.
- Note the kind of drone.
In order to file a claim, you will need the information from the drone involved in the collision. Be sure to record the drone model and any other identifying details. The FAA requires drone owners to display their registration number on the outside of their drones, allowing for easy access.
- Document with pictures.
Pictures can help with your insurance company claim and speed up the process. Be sure to take pictures as soon as possible after the accident, recording both the drone and the damage.
- Try to resolve the situation yourself.
You could potentially avoid a claim if you and the drone owner are able to work out a solution for the damages yourself. Given the high price of drone insurance, it’s just as likely that the drone owner will be just as reluctant to involve their insurer as you are.
That is why it’s also crucial that drone owners are prepared with the right insurance to repair your home. Those who own drones should speak with their insurance provider about their exact coverage. According to Choros, popular providers for drone coverage include United States Aircraft Insurance Group, Skywatch.ai and Thimble, in addition to larger providers like State Farm and AIG. When shopping for drone insurance, III urges you to inquire about policy limits, as well as any exclusions that could affect your coverage.
The Bottom Line
Drones are a fantastic tool for global commerce today, and they have demonstrated significant usefulness in federal security and monitoring measures. However, personal drone use still remains largely unmonitored, and your home could be susceptible to novice users who can unintentionally cause damage to your home. Home insurance could cover your damages, but as the popularity of drones increases, it’s crucial that you take the time to look over your homeowners policy to ensure that you have the right coverage you need.
Photo by Peter Cade / GettyImages