Drones in the Construction Industry

Drones in the Construction Industry

In just a few short years, drones and the real-time data they collect have contributed to improvements across the construction industry, from overall project efficiency to visual progress reporting for clients and stakeholders. Many builders and owners are using drones to help document construction progress, particularly the turnover process, on projects that are often huge in scope and on sites that are often across a large swath of land. Engineers, design professionals and some subcontractors are using drones for planning and overall design or bid calculations, because they can see and analyze the project at a glance, in addition to being able to get close to otherwise hard to reach locations. The collection of real-time, visual and accurate data is collected immediately from a drone, as opposed to the slow and labor-intensive process of walking a site by foot. New innovations in software are making data collection by drone easier today than it has ever been in the past. 

Drones are great for data collection, surveillance, aerial photography, surveying, documentation of construction progress, agriculture, search and rescue, and for advertising and marketing. But drone usage raises a number of legal concerns including privacy, safety and proper insurance coverage, as well as a duty to maintain video and still photo records made by drones. There can also be civil and criminal penalties associated with using drones - whether contractors or construction companies are aware of such, or not. 

Construction companies using drones or individuals piloting unmanned aircrafts from a construction site, should consider whether the drone qualifies as an "aircraft" under their insurance policy, and if so, whether using, or even owning, the aircraft triggers an exclusion to coverage they otherwise believe they have. Having an established relationship with an attorney who understands the ins-and-outs of insurance coverage issues can be especially helpful. Construction attorneys are particularly adept at these issues, routinely resolving insurance coverage disputes and helping proactive businesses to avoid unanticipated liability issues by performing a review of existing operations. 

Another common legal issue with drones is trespass and invasion of privacy. Individuals should refrain from engaging in an activity with a drone that would be illegal if a person was to do it themselves. 

Finally, issues surrounding liability for relying on information procured by the use of drones (was it reasonable or negligent to so rely?), as well as a duty to maintain records (for how long?) created by drones, are still developing and will be litigated well into the future. 

As with many remedies, an ounce of prevention is typically worth (in the litigation context) tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of cure. If construction entities have questions concerning their commercial use of drones - whether related to fulfillment of major contract obligations or just to market the latest success story - they should seek competent legal counsel.

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