It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! But Is It Insured? California Case Reinforces Importance of Liability Coverage for Drone OperationsAs the popularity and diverse nature of drones increase, the liability risks associated with drone operations increase as well. A California federal judge recently held that a standard CGL aircraft exclusion barred liability coverage for injuries related to drone operations. The case arose out of a wedding reception gone wrong when a wedding photography company operated a drone to capture the big day. While the drone was hovering at eye level, a guest collided with the drone and sustained serious injuries, including loss of sight in one eye. The court found that the drone fell under the ordinary meaning of the word “aircraft” as defined in the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, even though the policy did not define the term “aircraft.” The court ruled that the insurance company could recover the costs it spent defending the wedding photographer because the exclusion meant that the insurer did not have an obligation to defend the photographer against the suit filed by the injured wedding guest.

In a previous post, we advised against relying on the ambiguity of the term “aircraft” to avoid application of the aircraft exclusion in the standard CGL policy. The ambiguity argument has become all the more dangerous as courts like this one decide that a drone is an “aircraft.”

Reliance on a CGL policy becomes more problematic because many CGL policies explicitly exclude coverage for drones. For example, Commercial General Liability Form CG 21 09 06 15 excludes coverage for an “unmanned aircraft,” which is defined as an aircraft that is not designed, built, or modified to be directly controlled by person on or in the aircraft.

CGL policies can provide liability coverage for drone operations by endorsement. Commercial General Liability Form 24 50 06 15 provides coverage for an unmanned aircraft. Coverage A provides coverage for bodily injury and property damage, while Coverage B provides coverage for personal and advertising injury. You may purchase either coverage or both.

A CGL policy does not provide property coverage for the drone or its cargo; it provides liability coverage only. Commercial Property Form 04 14 12 16 protects drones that you own, rent or lease if you have a contractual obligation to provide insurance. This endorsement is appropriate for a drone if you are not transporting cargo. If you choose to endorse your standard policy with this form, carefully describe your operation in its entirety in the schedule to procure complete coverage. Commercial Inland Marine Form IH 00 61 01 16 is a separate form that covers cargo, but its coverage is limited because it lacks business interruption coverage.

A specialty drone policy generally provides liability coverage for drone operations, as well as property coverage for the drone itself. Because specialty policies are customizable, you can select what coverage you want. Both annual policies and on-demand policies are available. On-demand policies provide time-limited coverage for specific operations, while annual policies provide coverage throughout the policy period. Insurance companies offering specialized drone policies tout their comprehensive coverage for those companies that regularly utilize drones. Both new entrants into the insurance market as well as traditional aviation insurance companies are rushing to provide this coverage, thus expanding coverage options for drone operators.

For more information on drone coverage, please view our webinar.

webinarUpcoming Event - Policyholder Insurance Webinar Series: Is That Drone Insured?Bradley’s Policyholder Insurance Group is pleased to present “Is That Drone Insured?” as part of our ongoing Policyholder Insurance Webinar Series.

This webinar will discuss an overview of available drone insurance terms and conditions, recommended contract terms, and an insurance market assessment, including market capacity and pricing presented by Bradley attorneys Katherine J. Henry and Brendan W. Hogan with guest speaker Chris Proudlove of Global Aerospace.

When: Tuesday, December 12, 2017, 11:30AM – 12:30PM CST

Where: Webinar Registration

What: Businesses are hiring third-party drone operators to provide various services, including aerial photography and mapping, with many more uses developing daily. Some businesses are bypassing third-party operators and purchasing drones for their own use. Given the rapid pace of development of this technology, risks posed by drone operations may not be adequately insured by the third-party drone operator or may be uninsured by your company’s existing insurance portfolio, and governing contracts may not include adequate insurance requirements to protect your company.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Drones: Weighing the Pros and Cons of Three Insurance Strategies for this New TechnologyUse of unmanned aircraft ­– drones – has grown dramatically in recent years, but purchase of coverage for drones has lagged behind. If your company has not revised its insurance program to include drone coverage, your company could be without coverage for this new and increasingly important technology.

More than 2.5 million drones were sold in 2016, and the Federal aviation administration expects that number to grow to 7 million in 2020. While many drones are sold to hobbyists, commercial applications for drones constitute an increasing share of the drone market. Construction companies, agricultural operations, real estate agents, insurance claims adjusters, photographers, delivery services, and surveyors are just a few of the companies and professionals now exploring use of this new technology to improve services and increase profits. Some companies are purchasing drones while others are relying on third-party vendors to provide drone operations.

As with any new technology, however, drones pose unique insurance challenges, which, if left unaddressed, could lead to potentially uncovered insurance losses. To ensure that your company is protected for drone operations, you should:

  • Assess your company’s use of drones to determine potential exposure for property loss and third-party liabilities.
  • Review existing policies to determine whether drone liabilities are insured (they likely are not).
  • Determine whether to add drone coverage to your existing property and commercial general liability policies, to purchase a specialty drone policy, or to rely on third-party vendor coverage for liability exposures arising from that vendor’s drone operations.

Traditional Insurance Policies May Not Insure Drone Liabilities

Use of drones in business operations is likely not covered under your existing insurance policies due to the commonly included “aircraft exclusion.” While most non-aviation policies do not define “aircraft,” insurers will likely argue that drones constitute “aircraft,” leaving you with, at best, a messy fight with your insurance company to obtain coverage, and, at worst, no coverage at all. Pay careful attention to policy language to determine the availability of coverage.

Three Options for Drone Coverage

  • Unmanned aircraft endorsements to existing insurance policies – Your current insurance carrier may offer insurance for drones through endorsements to your property, inland marine, and commercial general liability policies. ISO form endorsements for these policies provide first- and third-party insurance coverage for drone use in commercial settings. While these endorsements expand coverage for drones, consider them in light of your company’s business operations to avoid leaving your company exposed for certain potential loss scenarios.
  • Specialty market aircraft coverage – If your company regularly uses drones in its business operations or maintains a fleet of drones, consider purchasing a specialty insurance policy to insure your drone use. While not every commercial application for drones requires specialty coverage, a drone-specific policy can provide a more complete coverage option for companies that regularly employ drones in their everyday business.
  • Coverage as an additional insured under vendor’s insurance policies – If your company relies on third-party vendors to operate drones on its’ behalf, require the vendor to name your company as an additional insured under its policies. This strategy is not without risks, however, as your coverage is dependent on the limits, coverage grants, and exclusions of a policy that you did not negotiate and may not even have seen prior to the loss event. Require your vendor to provide a copy of the applicable insurance policies; do not rely on a Certificate of Insurance (COI). Only the insurance policy provides coverage; COIs expressly disclaim coverage and instead state that the insurance policy alone provides coverage.