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Indoor 'Mistletoe Drone' Causes Injury: Legal Reminders for SMBs

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on December 09, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A promotional stunt at a New York TGI Fridays restaurant nearly ended when a drone crashed into a photographer, lacerating her nose with its unguarded rotor.

The restaurant was flying the drone as part of a "Mobile Mistletoe" promotion in which the remote-controlled helicopter-style drone was adorned with mistletoe to inspire patrons to kiss on camera, reports Brooklyn Daily. But the holiday cheer was in short supply after one of the drones went out of control and took a chunk out of the nose of a photographer there to cover the event.

As the photographer's injuries did not appear to be serious, the restaurant may have narrowly dodged being involved in a potential personal injury lawsuit. But what lessons should business owners take from this close call with a drone?

  • Commercial drone use is a developing legal area. The rules surrounding the commercial use of drones are still pretty murky; an NTSB ruling from earlier his year that found the FAA rules did not apply to drones was reversed last month by the four-member board. While the FAA figures out its rules for drones, a handful of states have also passed regulations on drones, according to MarketWatch. Depending on where you are, what you're doing, and what kind of drone you are flying, operating a drone for business purposes may be wading into a dangerous legal gray area.
  • Contractor v. employee liability. Although it's not clear from news reports whether the person operating the drone in this case was an employee of the restaurant or an independent contractor, the distinction may be important in the event his flying of a drone causes injuries which lead to a lawsuit. Although employers are generally liable for the negligent or intentional actions of employees while on the job, employers and business owners are typically not subject to liability for the acts of an independent contractor.
  • Premises liability. A business may also be held liable for injuries suffered by customers under the theory of premises liability. Even in instances where the injury is caused by a third party (such as a criminal or an independent contractor), the owner of property may be liable if there was a failure to warn about a known risk.

Find more legal tips for business owners facing injury or accident claims at FindLaw's section on Business Liability and Insurance.

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