Private Nuisance

The drone is an increasingly popular piece of technology. While these small electronic hovercrafts have been used by the military for years, they are just recently becoming popular with commercial enterprises and everyday hobbyists.

The FAA estimates that there will be nearly 4 million non-military drones in the United States by 2021. The large majority of these drones will be owned and piloted by private citizens simply enjoying a new hobby.

As drones become more popular, they are also becoming more controversial. Drones can be easily equipped with image and audio recording devices, making it easy to invade another person’s privacy.

These tiny hovercrafts can also be loud, pesky, and downright irritating. If you see a drone hovering above your own personal property, you may wonder if you have the right to destroy it.

Think Twice Before Shooting a Drone

In 2015, a California man learned the answer to this question the hard way after his son shot down a drone operating over their private property. At the end of a messy legal battle, the man was ordered to pay the drone’s owner $850 for the damage to his aircraft.

While discharging a firearm at an invasive drone may be satisfying, it can also have some serious consequences. The California man was fairly lucky to escape without facing criminal vandalism and/or gun charges for his actions.

Drone Operators May Be Liable for Invasion of Your Space

So, it’s not a good idea to shoot a drone that is flying over your personal space. However, this does not mean that you are out of options. You may have the grounds to file a civil lawsuit for damages and equitable remedies against the drone operator.

Private Nuisance

In California, you have the right to enjoy your property without interference from another person. When someone flies a drone over your property without your consent, your ability to enjoy your land is compromised. This may constitute a private nuisance.

You may be able to recover damages from a drone operator if you can establish that they have committed a private nuisance in violation of California state law. A private nuisance exists when you own, rent, or lease property and:

  1. Another person creates a condition that obstructs your ability to freely use and enjoy your property;
  2. You did not consent to the other person’s actions;
  3. An ordinary person would be reasonably annoyed or disturbed;
  4. You were harmed because of this action; and
  5. The seriousness of the harm outweighs the public benefit of the defendant’s actions.

In other words, a private nuisance exists when a defendant acts in some way that would cause a reasonable person to be annoyed or irritated and prevent them from enjoying their own private property. No physical or real property has to be harmed. The fact that you cannot enjoy your own land is sufficient harm.

Invasion of Privacy

California law explicitly states that operating a drone over another person’s property without consent can be considered trespass and an unlawful invasion of privacy. However, in order to recover damages, the drone must be operated with the intent to take photographs, video footage, or recordings of a private event without consent.

If you find that your neighbor has operated a drone over your property to record you, you may be able to recover damages including:

  • General damages (e.g., pain and suffering, emotional distress)
  • Special damages (e.g., financial costs related to the invasion), and/or
  • Punitive damages (e.g., those imposed to punish the drone operator for their actions).

Need More Help?

If someone operates a drone over your private property you may be tempted to grab a gun and obliterate the tiny hovercraft. However, you could face criminal charges for vandalism (destroying someone’s property) and for discharging a firearm in a residential area.

Fortunately, California law provides you with some legal remedies. You may be able to (1) recover monetary compensation for the harm caused by the drone and (2) get a court order to prohibit the owner from flying the drone over your property.

Contact the Law Offices of John Rapillo to schedule a free case evaluation and learn about your legal rights. Our personal injury lawyers would be happy to review your case and explain which legal options may be available to you. Call us to find out how we can help you today.