Attorney Launches Drone Legal Database

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As drone technology flies into more aspects of everyday living, legal conflicts are sure to follow.

Florida-based aviation attorney Jonathan Rupprecht decided to take a crack at bringing order to the chaos, releasing an online database of drone-related legal activity.

“There has been a wide range of drone-related cases in the last couple of years ranging from flamethrowers mounted on drones to a drone crashing into a wedding guest,” Rupprecht notes.

“The civil drone lawsuits are all over the place – an Equal Protection Clause challenge against a state drone law, injured people suing drone flyers, products liability, breach of contract, etc.” He added: “Most of the criminal cases tend to be prosecuted under the state law equivalent of careless and reckless endangerment or something along those lines.”

When asked about some of the more high-profile cases, Rupprecht highlighted:

  • City of Seattle v. Skinner: In 2017, a Washington State court sentenced Paul M. Skinner to 30 days and a fine of $500 for reckless endangerment after a drone he piloted over the city’s Pride parade the previous year fell and struck a woman unconscious. The case is believed to be the first U.S. case of a drone pilot being sentenced to jail time.
  • Singer v. City of Newton: A federal court struck down four parts of a 2016 drone ordinance in a Massachusetts town. Local drone operator Michael Singer filed the lawsuit after the town of Newton passed an ordinance regulating drone use. Among other things, the ordinance required municipal registration of drones. The court struck the provision down, ruling FAA regulations preempt municipal registration laws. The court also voided three other parts for the same reasons, noting that a town is not allowed to stand in for the FAA when it comes to regulating airspace.
  • EPIC v. Department of Transportation: “[The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)] is suing, claiming the Drone Advisory Committee’s use of sub-groups that are meeting privately is a violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. There are other claims but that is the big one. The D.C. District Court ruled against them and EPIC is appealing it to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.”

Rupprecht said the resource is “more of a starting point to research further into the final outcomes.”

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