Minnesota Drone Laws – Future Regulation and Litigation is in the Air

The use of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, has increased exponentially over the past few years. This higher level of activity has real-world implications for landowners and businesses. For example, drones have been used successfully for filming and entertainment purposes, delivery of products, and disaster relief/recovery efforts. But it isn’t a stretch to envision drone litigation occurring under a theory of trespass or nuisance. Under longstanding case law, any auxiliary flights that encroach on airspace may be a trespass. Many states (but not Minnesota) have passed laws providing that flying drones in certain sensitive areas, over private property, or over crowds of people constitute a trespass. Other laws indicate that drones may be a nuisance, if they interfere with a property owner’s enjoyment of land. These laws are akin to the age-old “Peeping Tom” laws that everyone knows.

It is typical for residential, commercial, public, or industrial parcels to retain “air rights” over their properties, but these rights are often not documented. In the future, if a landowner provides an access easement to its property, for example, the landowner should consider addressing drone flights in the easement document. If the beneficiary access certain areas of the property via drone, the landowner may have an action for breach of the easement, which could lead to its revocation.

The federal government has already introduced drone regulations, through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In short, these regulations prohibit individuals from operating drones carelessly or recklessly, mandates a no-fly zone around airports, introduces a 55-pound weight limit for drones, and requires drones to be registered with the FAA. While there are no statewide regulations or bans on drones, the City of St. Bonifacius banned drones outright in 2011. Drone operators should be aware of these federal regulations. Also keep an eye on the Minnesota Legislature’s activity in 2018 for new legislation.


QUESTIONS?

If you have any questions on this topic or would like more information, please contact attorney Andy Pratt at 651-351-2125, or email at apratt@eckberglammers.com.