Aircraft and spacecraft is a multi-billion dollar industry in Germany. With the increased use of drones across the globe this industry is expanding very quickly to include drone production and new laws to comply with regarding their use. The German Aviation Act has been amended and now classifies drones as aircraft.
Drones have long been used by the military but now civilian use is slowly overtaking the military demand for this product. Companies are considering using drones to help them with deliveries. Producers of movies are using them to help film scenes. Farmers are using them to help with their crops.
Under the German Aviation Act, civilians may use drones without a permit if the drone weighs less than five (5) kilograms. The operator of a civilian drone does not need to know any specific rules about aviation to operate the drone. This means that almost anyone may purchase and fly a drone for recreational use.
On October 19, 2015, the U.S. Transportation Department and the Federal Aviation Administration announced that drone hobbyists here in the U.S. will need to register the drone with the federal government but will not need to obtain a flying drone permit as is required for commercial users. If an operator of a drone does not register with the government the owner/operator could incur penalties from the government. This new rule is intended to help federal authorities track down people who fly their drones too close to airplanes and other restricted areas. With all of these unmanned aircraft flying overhead there will be accidents and injuries resulting from mechanical failure or human error. German manufacturers and U.S. manufacturers of drones should be aware that the consumer could come after the manufacturer under, among other legal theories, three main legal theories: Breach of Warranty, Strict Products Liability and Negligence.
- Breach of Warranty: This can be either an Express Warranty or Implied Warranty. Breach of Express Warranty means the vehicle or vehicle part came with some sort of written warranty or guarantee, so the defect may be a breach of this warranty. The Breach of Implied Warranty is usually imposed by minimum state standards, so they are implied regardless of the written warranty that came with the vehicle or vehicle part. The defect would be a breach of these implied warranties.
- Strict Products Liability: This has been adopted by many states to help consumers. This theory relieves the consumer of having to show that the manufacturer or the supplier of the defective vehicle or vehicle part was not sufficiently prudent in creating or distributing the vehicle or vehicle part. All the consumer has to do is show that the vehicle or vehicle part is defective in some way and that because of this defect the consumer was injured or suffered damages.
- Negligence: This means that the manufacturer or a party within the manufacturer’s line of manufacture did not act with reasonable care to assure the safety of the design and manufacture of the vehicle or the vehicle part. The issue then revolves around “reasonable care,” which depends upon the nature and risk of the harm that could be caused by the vehicle or the vehicle part. Manufacturing standards are stricter when the potential for bodily harm that can come from a vehicle or vehicle part, should it be defective is higher. Under this theory the consumer would have to prove that the manufacturer breached this duty and that the cause of the damages incurred by the consumer were caused by the defective vehicle or vehicle part.
When presented with a products liability claim in the US there are several defenses that UTF attorneys use to mitigate the damages. Some of these defenses can include contributory negligence, lack of proximate cause of injury and intervening/superseding cause. It is important that the US attorney is knowledgeable about these defenses because some aspects of the United States Products Liability Law are different from the law in Germany when addressing the damages from these claims. This is why it is important to retain a firm that is knowledgeable about US products liability laws and can help ensure German manufacturers are in compliance with the products liability standards and laws in the United States.