Drone Laws in Florida

Honestly I am starting to feel both old and scared.  It is almost like I am a guy who was raised on a farm and horses were the only fast transportation. Then, within a short period of time, man was riding in trains, then cars, then a few years later, planes.  Imagine the shock and awe of a plane trip in 1919.  But I was born in the age of planes, trains and automobiles.  So why do I feel so antiquated?  Because of Drones, Tesla self-driving cars, the miracle of the iPhone, and Alexa.  There is this huge push into Star Trek futuristic technology that seems incredible.  As much as I like it, I also see the dangerous nature of it all.  I understand Elon Musk’s obsessive fear of artificial intelligence.

As a personal injury lawyer I am making some bets on the future as well.  The first one is that automobiles are going to get in far fewer accidents.  We have three cars in my family.   Two of them beep and try to stop before a rear-end collision occurs.  I think it will be a long time before the human error is fully out of the driving equation, but clearly, there are going to be a lot less low-impact bump type accidents.

The other bet is that the rise of Drones is coming FAST!  The FAA is predicting that there will be more than 300,000 drones in the sky by 2020.  I am betting they are wrong.  I believe there will be literally millions.  Maybe just at a million by 2020 but soon after millions.  They will be used for commercial and business purposes. They will be used for entertainment. They will be used for private use, like delivering some milk to a neighbor down the block, walking your dog, and checking if the mail has come yet.  There are a lot of things Drones will be used for, and the upcoming question is what can you do legally with a drone and what rights do we have to stop drones from invading our lives.  There are some State laws that are already on the books.  Florida has started to broach this hard question.  The first question Florida attacked was the one facing Floridians right now:  Invasion of personal space and privacy.

I believe it is a good place to start.  I was at an outdoor yoga class a few weeks back.  It is set in the idyllic setting under a giant Banyan tree, under the Jupiter Lighthouse, right on the ocean cut between the Loxahatchee River and the ocean.  It is one of the most beautiful public settings you could imagine, especially for yoga.  It is shaded from the sun, overlooks some outdoor restaurants across the Intracostal waterway and has the most beautiful wooden deck in the world.  Peaceful is the word that comes to mind.  However, peaceful it was not once someone across the water sent their drone to buss over, come underneath the giant shade of the Banyan and film us doing Yoga.  Why anyone would want to see me do yoga is baffling and likely not pretty.  However, that is NOT the point.  The point is that it felt that should be violating my right to privacy.   It is not, by the way, illegal to do. The law is not clear enough in Florida to stop the behavior.  So beware!  Doing yoga in a public forum subjects you to drone filmography.

In 2013 Florida had some laws on the books that made it unlawful to take pictures or film people or property using a drone without their express permission.  That sounded pretty good to me at that time.  But the drone filming privacy law was amended in 2015.  Now the law limits film or photos only if you can identify a person, where they were, and what they were doing at that time.  Which may sound like a good limitation, but think about it:  How do you know if the drone photos or film can actually make you out?  In other words, how do you ever actually know without capturing that drone and looking at the data (film or photo data that is).  In other words, the law is nice but can NOT be enforced. The truth is that a camera of iPhone clarity (most drone cameras are at least as good as a cell phone camera, and most are far better!) will or should be violating the law.  They can capture tiny details in photos and capture human images from far distances, but if you can’t stop the filming as illegal, because it is assumed you are not doing illegal filming when you are using the drone, then you will never know. Of course, later on, when you pop up on some awful website doing downward dog with your pot belly sticking out of your torn tee shirt above your yoga pants which are tighter than you’d like by about 10 lbs – well then you are not going to be happy and the perpetrator will be long gone and uncatchable!

The law in Florida needs to stiffen up. We need a Florida state drone operator license.  All drones should have a clearly marked identification number, just like cars and boats and planes.  This way a drone operator and a drone machine can be traced and the data can be followed.  This isn’t a full proof way to stop the invasion of privacy, but it is a good start.

Further, what about a private right of action against Drone operators who allow their drone to be used in ways that hurt people, including invasion of privacy.

Funny aside:  The other day in jury selection Peter Hunt, a lawyer in the firm, was talking about “risky” behavior and asking jurors if people who engage in risky behavior were 100% at risk or if there were factors that could alleviate their level of responsibility.  One juror said the following:  “So, like, if you are cliff diving, which is dangerous, you are going to have to live with the consequences if you mistime it.  But if you are diving and a drone hits you in mid-air and then you get hurt, well then, that is a whole other story!”

People have droned on the brain!  I can see a future niche market in drone liability.  I can see a future market in drone lawsuits. I can see that Florida courts could get inundated by in Drone related lawsuits.  This is especially true for the invasion of privacy markets.  Regardless, this is the law in Florida right now and if a drone runs into you while you are cliff diving, race car driving or doing yoga, you are welcome to call our office for a free consultation!

Enjoy and have a technology-free day!

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