The Queensland Government could be liable if new police drones fall out of the sky and cause injury.
Brisbane compensation law expert Kevin Barratt said the increased use of remote control drones by both government and private operators had focused attention on the issue of injury if the craft failed in flight.
Mr Barratt, of Brisbane law firm Bennett & Philp Lawyers, said the issue of negligence was central to Queensland’s injury compensation laws and although drones were a relatively new technology over Queensland skies, he believed the same negligence rules would apply to them too.
Mr Barratt’s remarks were prompted by Queensland Police unveiling two new drones worth $23,000 which they will use to monitor criminal activity and take photos and videos of crime scenes.
The Government won’t confirm whether the drones will be used for counter-terrorism work too.
Flying drones have become increasingly popular in private, government and police work and are often used by real estate agents for property photography. The robots are freely available from radio control and hobby shops.
Mr Barratt said two issues arose over drone use- personal injury and privacy issues. While there are regulations restricting drone use similar to model aircraft, the wider injury problem may arise more from “official” drone use.
“The privacy issues are a subject in themselves but for personal injury, I expect it would boil down to the principles of negligence and if a member of the public sustained an injury they would have a claim against the owner/operator if they could establish their injury was a result of negligence,” he said.
The new police drones have already been used to examine the scene of a recent fatal house fire in Beenleigh where a two-year-old boy died.
Police also intend to use the drones in the forensic search for evidence in hard to reach places, such as on a roof or cliff.
Mr Barratt said the operating of drones would inevitably attract more scrutiny and the negligence issue could likely be tested in compensation actions if it was shown that a drone owner or operator ignored safety concerns or flew a drone in a manner that endangered others.
Individual liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation (personal injury work exempted).