Drone Lawsuits & Litigation Database (2018)


drone-lawsuitsI have compiled drone lawsuits/litigation/prosecutions into the list below. 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.  Some of the lawsuits I have written articles on, while others I might just cite an article.  If you know of a drone lawsuit that I have NOT put up here, please send me an email! :)

The list below is broken up into Federal courts, Federal administrative courts (e.g. NTSB), and then state courts. Note that for criminal cases, I ONLY included cases where the prosecutor has chosen to file charges. There are many more individuals who have been arrested for flying a drone but the prosecutors for whatever reason did not choose to file charges. I did not include any drug transportation or prison-drop related prosecutions.

Notice: I try to keep the pages up to date. This page MIGHT not be up to date with rulings. Think of this page more of a starting point to research further into the final outcomes. 

If you are a person who has a drone-related mater outside of Florida, but you want to work with me, hire a local attorney in your state and tell them to contact me. If you are an attorney and need my help for a drone-related matter, please contact me.

Quick Summary on Drone Lawsuits/Litigation:

Criminal Cases- most of the criminal cases tend to be prosecuted under the state law equivalent of careless and reckless endangerment or something along those lines. The other batch of prosecutions has to do with violations of exporting technology associated with military drones.

DJI’s lawsuits involve them being on the receiving end of a class action or DJI being the plaintiff in a patent infringement lawsuit.

Then there is everything else. The civil causes 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.).

Drone Litigation in Federal Courts

Federal Circuit Court

Federal District Court

  • Robert Taylor v. FAA – Class action lawsuit over the registration regulations currently being litigated in the D.C. Circuit seeking around $840 million in damages and fees.
  • Reichert v. FAA – Currently being litigated. Class action lawsuit against the FAA seeking to destroy the FAA registry and get the money back to all those who have registered.
  • Singer v. City of Newton – Adjudicated.  Federal District Court of Massachusetts struck down the local drone ordinance as being unconstitutional. It was appealed by the City to the appeals court but the City asked for the case to be dismissed which the court granted.
  • FAA v. Haughwout case (the kid with the gun and the drone) is currently being litigated a federal district court in Connecticut and the only order was that the FAA’s subpoena powers were very broad.
  • Flores v. State of Texas – Currently being litigated in the Southern Federal District Court of Texas on whether the Texas state drone law violates the Equal Protection Clause.
  • FAA v. Skypan case in the federal North District Court of Illinois.
  • Boggs v. Meredith case in the federal Western District Court of Kentucky which was dismissed. Boggs’ drone was shot down by Meredith. Boggs sued in federal court claiming the drone was in navigable airspace (which means he was not trespassing in Meredith’s airspace) and was entitled to compensation. The court dismissed the case because the court did not have the subject matter jurisdiction to decide the case and the case should be resolved in Kentucky state court.
  • DJI v. Yuneec – DJI is suing Yuneec alleging patent infringement.
  • DJI v. Autel –  DJI files a patent infringment lawsuit.
  • Sives v. DJI  – Class Action lawsuit against DJI regarding software update that allegedly damaged the drones.
  • Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone published an article detailing multiple prosecutions under ITAR.
  • Justice Laub v. Nicholas Horbaczewski et al – Laub alleges that Horbaczewski breached a contract. They are demanding $9,900,000 from Horbaczewski and Drone Racing League, Inc.  Both Horbaczewski and Drone Racing League, Inc. have sued in New York state court asking for a declaration that Laub is not an owner of Drone Racing League.
  • United States v. Porrata – Defendant was sentenced to 5 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine for scamming investors with their sham drone manufacturing company.
  • Hobbico is doing Chapter 11 banktupcy.
  • The Inspector General for the Department of Transportation mentioned that their have been some investigations by the Department of Transportation against drone flyers.  “Finally, prosecuting UAS owners who violate FAA regulations or engage in illegal flight activities has been challenging. Since 2016, our Office of Investigations has opened 23 cases involving illegal operation of UAS. However, 10 of these cases were closed in the preliminary complaint phase, and were declined for prosecution for various reasons, such as the inability to prove criminal intent and a lack of prior prosecutions. Ultimately, further attention is needed to ensure FAA has strong oversight and enforcement mechanisms in place so it can effectively identify violations and mitigate the safety risks associated with increased UAS operations.”

FAA and/or National Transportation Safety Board

Drone Litigation in State Courts

California 

  • Telling v. DJI – Class action lawsuit against DJI in Los Angeles Superior Court
  • City of San Francisco v. Lily – The district attorney for San Francisco is suing the company Lily for false advertising and unfair business practices.
  • City of Los Angeles v. Arvel Chapel – Not Guilty. Criminal prosecution by the city under their city ordinance. The jury held Arvel not guilty.
  • Joe v. McBay – Small claims case. McBay shot down Joe’s drone. The judge ordered McBay to pay for the shot-down drone.
  • Pituch v. Pi Kappa Phi
  • Pituch v. Perfect Event Inc. – Pi Kappa Phi of the University of Southern California hired Perfect Event to throw a party. One of the two defendants hired the drone operator who crashed the drone into the plaintiff’s head. She is suing both defendants for negligence and premises liability.

Colorado

  • Boustred & Horizon Hobby v. Align Corporation – On appeal, court affirmed lower courts judgment denying Align’s motion to dismiss the case against them. Align is a Taiwanese company who sells model aircraft through Horizon Hobby. Boustred lost an eye when the toy helicopter broke and is now suing Align and Horizon Hobby under strict product liability. The appeals court affirmed the trial courts ruling that personal jurisdiction can be held over a Taiwanese company.

Connecticut

  • Pedro Rivera, v. Brian Foley, Edward Yergeau, & Hartford Police Department– Plaintiff works for a TV station and responded to a police scene while NOT working (his own free time). Plaintiff flew his drone and the police officer responded to the plaintiff’s flight. Police officer called Plaintiff’s employer and made suggestions that Plaintiff should be disciplined to maintain goodwill. Plaintiff was suspended for a week. Plaintiff sued claiming his constitutional rights were violated.

Florida

Kentucky

  • Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Meredith – The famous “drone slayer” case where Meredith shot down the drone. He was prosecuted for criminal mischief and wanton endangerment. The judge dismissed the case saying, “He had a right to shoot at this drone, and I’m gonna dismiss this charge[.]” Note: there is also a federal district court case associated with this case.

New Hampshire

  • Ellis v. Billcliff
  • Ellis v. Searles Castle – Billcliff, the groom, was getting married at Searles Castle. He was flying a drone. He went to go dance and put his drone down. Someone flew the drone and crashed it into a wedding guest, Ellis. She is now suing Billcliff and also the Searles Castle for damages.
  • Eaton, the other girl injured along with Ellis, is also suing Billcliff and Searles Castles.

New Jersey

  • Russel Percenti shot down a drone and was prosecuted for possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and criminal mischief.

New York

  • State v. Beesmer – Adjudicated not guilty. Flew his drone outside a hospital and was charged with unlawful surveillance. Held not guilty by jury.
  • State v. Daniel Verley –  New York City teacher crashed his drone into U.S. Open tennis match. He was prosecuted. They entered a plea deal to do community service.
  • State v. Riddle –  Guy crashed into the Empire State Building. Was prosecuted. Pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. He has to pay a $200 fine and complete two days of community service.

North Dakota

  • State v. Turgeon – Adjudicated not guilty. Criminal prosecution for flying a drone allegedly near an airplane near the Dakota Pipeline protests. He was charged with a felony and two misdemeanors.
  • State v. Dewey – Criminal prosecution for stalking. Dewey was flying a drone during the Dakota Pipeline protests.
  • State v. Brossart – Not really a drone case, but a predator drone was used to track down a man. The crazy part is this was in 2012! This is more of a 4th amendment case.

Pennsylanvia

  • Commonwealth v. Roselli.  Adjudicated guilty and put on probation for 2 years. Roselli flew his drone  near a helicopter. He was charged with risking a catastrophe (felony) and recklessly endangering another person (misdemeanor).  He did a plea deal. He pleaded nolo contedere to the misdemeanor and the prosecutor dropped the charges for the felony. He was put on probation for 2 years and to pay court costs.

Tennessee

  • State v. Haddox – Haddox was flying his drone during “CMA Fest activities and the Predators watch party on Broadway.” He was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment and trespass. The “reckless endangerment charge stems from Haddox being unable to maintain line of sight of the drone and flying it over a ticketed event with thousands of persons present.” The two dockets are here.

Washington State

  • City of Seattle v. Skinner – First drone flyer ever to be sentenced to jail for flying a drone. He flew over a gay pride parade and the drone crashed into a woman.
  • The woman who was injured is suing Skinner to recover damages for the crash.
  • City of Seattle v. Kelley – This is the famous Seattle Space Needle crash that was all over the internet.  Kelley was charged with reckless endangerment.

Wisconsin

 

Other:

GoPro received a class action shareholder lawsuit. The lawsuit surrounds statements made by the CEO regarding their drone which was later canceled.  A second class action against GoPro was also filed. 

Jonathan Rupprecht

Mr. Rupprecht is an aviation attorney who focuses on drones. Read more about his background as a commercial pilot, flight instructor, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University grad, and legal author. He has had media appearances on Forbes, Newsweek, Politico, NPR, Marketwatch, The Independent, Motherboard, and other sources. Feel free to send Jonathan a message here.