Aerial cinematography : what about the client’s liability ?

September 15th 2015, by antoine

If you regularly use the services of drone operators for drone aerial shots, you maybe asked yourself what could happen in case an accident happened with the drone (material or corporal damages). Would you be liable for hiring someone who caused the accident ? If you read our last article about how to pick the right drone operator then you know what you have to check before hiring someone, which is already a good start.

We contacted several persons at the DGAC (French FAA) to ask them about the client’s liability. What they told us is that they don’t have any feedback on the question yet, simply because a significant accident with a drone in France has yet to happen (Or they were dealt with locally without telling the administration). There is not jurisprudence so nothing is set in stone yet but we can start looking a different cases to try and identify the things you can do to make sure you don’t get any problems in case of an accident.

The drone operator follows the law

If the drone operator can present you the following elements (In France)

  • Manuel d’Activité Particuliere
  • Professional Insurance
  • Drone Insurance
  • Using a drone corresponding to the current flight scenario (In terms of weight and safety equipments
  • Respecting the safety rules during the job
  • Drone registered at the DGAC
  • In contact with a nearby airport if applicable

In that case, the client shouldn’t be scared of being sued. He hired a professionnal in full possession of all the authorizations and following the basic safety rule for drones. If an accident happens, there probably will be an expert mandated to study the causes of the crash and to check all the legal elements and documents the operator must provide, but as long as every rule was followed, both the operator and the client should be fine.

The drone operator does not follow the rules

If the drone operator is in one of those cases

  • Didn’t file a MAP (Manuel d’activité particulière)
  • Doesn’t have a Drone insurance
  • Doesn’t have a professionnal insurance
  • Doesn’t have the necessary diplomas (Practical drone test and theorical exam on plane/helicopter/ultralight)
  • Didn’t get the proper local authorizations
  • Didn’t file an exemption with the local airport
  • Does not take care of this gear
  • Does not follow the rules (flying over crowds, safety distances etc…)
  • ..

In that case, the pilot will probably be called to court in case of an accident and he will be liable of the damage he has caused. His insurance will probably NOT pay for the damage and all the fees will be up to him. As for the client, if he wasn’t aware of the facts his contractor didn’t have the proper authorizations, it’s very unlikely he will be sued for this. BUT if it can be proved the client knew about it or even encouraged it (like flying over a crowd or flying too far for example), then he will probably be called to court as well.

Complementary information

Please keep in mind that this article is only our vision of the things on clien’ts liability, that the law and rules are still evolving on a daily basis in our field and that hopefully, we still never had any bad accident. This article is to open a debate about everyone’s responsability as a pilot AND as someone hiring one ! It is here to help synthetize and provide you the information you need when hiring someone.

Like for any synthesis, there might be imprecisions, if you feel there are, don’t hesitate to comment and we’ll add your observations to the article.

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