Nobody but nobody enjoys reading an insurance policy. Companies like GEICO know that and make effective commercials which rely on humor. Indeed famed actor Dennis Quaid is on a “mission to make insurance interesting” in his TV commercials for Esurance. Photographers and producers are no different than other people/businesses who pay for insurance coverage in that the odds are only about 99% that they never read the policy they pay for every month.  

It is not exactly breaking news to say that the use of drones by photographers, location scouts, filmmakers, producers etc has increased exponentially. They falsely assume that they are insured for such use or just never think about whether they have insurance coverage for specifically drone related personal injuries or property damage.  Most typical policies do not cover damages resulting for the use of drones. You as a policy holder must request , obtain and pay for such coverage. If not, you may be facing financial ruin if you have a drone fly a muck (or any other brand of drone).

Submitted for your consideration and as a warning, a slice of real life:

A California federal court judge has ruled that Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Co. doesn’t have to defend or indemnify a photography company in a lawsuit alleging that its drone blinded a wedding guest in one eye. This despite the fact that the photo company was “insured”.

The wedding photography company’s photographer was using a drone which allegedly blinded a guest by hitting the guest’s eye. Yeah, ouch! The photography company put in a claim with its own insurance company seeking insurance coverage for the claim after the injured party, not surprisingly,made one. Insurance coverage typically means that the insured’s company BOTH pays for “your” lawyer, all defense costs AND any settlement or judgment obtained against the insured person/company (“you”). That’s why we have insurance.

The insurance company claimed the drone injuries were specifically excluded from coverage by the insurance policy purchased by the photo company.

The case boiled down to what is the definition of an “aircraft”. There was no clear definition of the term in the policy. U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson granted Philadelphia Indemnity’s motion for summary judgment,finding that policyholder was not entitled to coverage. The court also ruled that the policyholder had to pay back to the insurance company over$17,000 it had already spent defending the case. And that amount we can safely assume is just the start of some major costs.

Judge Anderson held, that while  “aircraft” is not specifically defined in the insurance policy exclusions, the ordinary definition of the word clearly includes drones. “Here, Ms. Kamboj was injured when a drone, hovering at eye level and operated by defendant Satyam Sukhwal, came into contact with her eye,”  “A drone, as a ‘vehicle … for traveling through the air’ is an aircraft under the term’s ordinary and plain definition.”  ruled the judge. 

The insurance company moved for summary judgment (so it could get out of the case immediately) in November based on the “aircraft exclusions”.  Judge Anderson used the Merriam-Webster dictionary,which defines the term “aircraft” as a “vehicle (such as an airplane or balloon) for traveling through the air.” That ordinary definition “does not require the carrying of passengers or cargo,” the judge added. Kinda hard to argue that a drone does not travel in/on the air.

“Additionally, that a drone is unmanned and operated remotely does not make it any less of an aircraft,” Judge Anderson wrote.  We note that drones operated out of FL, TX and MO run bombing missions and reconnaissance for the military thousands of miles from America’s shores in Africa the Middle East and Asia daily. Back to the Judge, “Because the claim here is not even potentially covered by the policy, the duty to defend never arose in the first instance and [Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance] is entitled to reimbursement of its costs incurred while defending the state court action and any indemnity paid,” 

The case is Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Co. v. Hollycal Production Inc. et al., case number 5:18-cv-00768, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The decision, if you want to read it, a PDF can be found here.

So if you use drones on a regular or even occasional basis in your business, have a sit down with your insurance agent to make sure that in the event of property damage or an accident where people are seriously injured or killed you are covered by your insurance. A sophisticated client knowing you intend to use a drone would require proof of such coverage as a condition for hiring you.

If your agent says you are already covered by your existing policy, get a written representation to that effect.Their oral assurance is not worth the air used to say it.