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A drone is still an aircraft, even if it does not carry passengers or cargo, says a federal court in ruling a Tokio Marine Holdings Inc. unit is not obligated to defend or indemnify a photography firm whose drone injured a wedding guest’s eye under an aviation policy exclusion.
A guest who attended a 2016 wedding that was photographed by Corona, California-based Hollycal Production Inc. using a drone allegedly lost use of her eye when the drone made contact with it, according to Friday’s ruling by the U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, California, in Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Co. v. Hollycal Production Inc. et. al.
The injured woman filed suit in state court against Hollycal, its owner and an employee. Tokio Marine unit Philadelphia Indemnity, which is based in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, agreed to defend the company under a reservation of rights.
The insurer then filed suit in the U.S. District Court, seeking summary judgment as to whether Hollycal was entitled to coverage under its insurance policy.
The court ruled it was not. The firm’s policy includes an exclusion for bodily injury or property damage involving any aircraft it used, said the ruling.
The firm had argued the drone did not fall within the exclusion because a “drone equipped with a camera is not capable of transporting persons or cargo,” but it rather is “unmanned and operated remotely.”
The drone is still an aircraft, said the ruling, however. “The ordinary definition of an aircraft does not require the carrying of passengers or cargo. Additionally, that a drone is unmanned and operated remotely does not make it less of an aircraft,” said the ruling, in holding the insurer does not have a duty to defend or indemnify the defendants.
Energy companies interested in or already using drones in their operations should be aware of and have plans in place to comply with regulations governing the use of unmanned aircraft.