What Are Real Estate Photography RCMA Operators Doing To Protect Against Risk?

April 22nd, 2014

SelfieMatti in Michigan  raises the question about what other real estate photography/videography RCMA operators are doing to protect themselves against risk. She says:

It would be great to find out what current operators are doing for insurance or how they are handling any potential liability or questions from agents and sellers about this fact. I’m thinking of asking sellers and agents to sign a liability waiver of some sort until I can get reasonably priced insurance.

I think this is a great question. Some commenters on past posts indicate they have purchased liability insurance for RCMA operation for in the neighborhood of $1500/year while other commenters claim that, that particular insurance does not really protect you from the risks as one would expect. So be sure to carefully check out  and verify a policy before depending on it.

A recent article at fastcompany.com posses the question of liability to two aviation personal injury lawyers. That is, “what happens when a UAV filming a sporting event or wedding loses control and hits bystanders?” It sounds like since this is such a new area there is not a lot of clear law in this area. Liability could go beyond just the pilot. The fastcompany.com article further points out that:

Recreational drone manufacturers usually urge buyers to purchase separate drone insurance. For instance, boutique UAV maker Lift Off UAV includes a request that customers insure themselves with every purchase. Lift Off specifically notes that model aircraft are not generally covered by liability insurance. The line between model aircrafts and drones is blurry because of the availability of cheap, high-powered cameras and GPS units that turn even the most modest remote controlled aircraft into a sophisticated self-flying tool. And model aircraft already cause a number of injuries each year, according to an insurance report by the American Model Association, approximately 35 claims annually are presented to the AMA, which insures model airplane enthusiasts. Approximately 20 are property damage and 15 involve bodily harm.

What are those of you that are flying RCMA for real estate purposes in the US doing to protect yourself against liability?

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14 Responses to “What Are Real Estate Photography RCMA Operators Doing To Protect Against Risk?”

  • I don’t have an RCMA yet, but I have flown large RC helicopters for years. The number one way to protect yourself is using safe practices. In real estate photography we have the advantage of not having to fly near or above people like those dong sporting events/weddings. You must inspect and maintain your machine, vibrations can wear wiring and loosen parts. You must practice flying so that you have total control of the RCMA before using it commercially. Most accidents are caused by operator error. Safety and common sense are your best protection. As popularity of RCMA’s grow insurers will likely offer affordable coverage.

  • I am currently getting a quote from my local insurance agent for general liability for my business, including use of a RCMA for photography and video. Will update when I have more information, hopefully will have the quote in the next couple days.

    Josh Mais

    Kansas City Spaces
    http://kansascityspaces.com

  • My insurance company said my standard liability insurance would cover RCMA.

  • It will be interesting to see how this plays out; the additional aerial view picture to sell the house and land, versus, the item expenses, training time, insurance, maintenance etc. With luxury properties and realtors, it is probably worth it.

  • I’m really wondering how much damage a RCMA could cause. I agree with Hans, common sense safe practices are your best insurance. And the fact that in real estate, one isn’t usually flying around people also minimizes the risk. I’m really not trying to be flippant, but what kind of damage could a small RCMA really cause?

  • Safe practices are best, agree with all comments above.

    The physical damage caused by a small a/c such as a DJI Phantom will be relative to the situation. If I crash my DJI full speed into a home the damage would likely be minor (to the home.) If I crashed into a person, or into the windshield of a car moving at highway speeds the results could be life threatening.

  • Lee, I agree. A Phantom at full throttle may have a difficult time breaking a window. An Octocopter carrying a 5d could do some serious damage.

  • @Lee Jinks – An operator managed to kill himself with one. He cut his neck open and bled to death. I didn’t see a video of the accident, but I often see flyers bringing their craft close to themselves. Power lines can be a problem. The larger RCMA’s are made from carbon fiber, which is conductive. Even if you didn’t get across 2 of the upper lines but just got hung up on one, the electric company could charge thousands of dollars to get it down. If there is damage to the lines, who knows what it would cost to shut down the power and run some new cable.

    IIRC, it was a Phantom with a GoPro attached that somebody was inexpertly flying around the tall buildings in Manhattan from an apartment. There is video on YouTube of the pilot banging into skyscrapers a bunch of times before it finally fell out of the sky. Fortunately, it didn’t land on somebody, but it was said to have impacted a couple of feet from a person that collected it up and sold the onboard footage to the local news channel. I’d have to count floors on the buildings, but I wouldn’t be too far off if I made a guess that it fell from 35 to 40 floors up. Plenty of altitude for it to reach terminal velocity.

    Hans is right about flying safely and getting lots of practice. I still have no doubts that there will be many that will do neither.

  • Be careful assuming your insurance company will cover you in a liability claim. Once they find out that the commercial use is “technically” against the law, they are going to deny the claim. A good personal injury lawyer is also going to rip you a new one in court for your activity. Until this mess is finally resolved,
    use your drone commercially at your own risk.

  • I received a quote for general liability and some professional liability insurance, which do allow the use of a RCMA, for around $750 a year. There are a lot of different options that can increase the price, and this was the cheapest option my insurance agent could find.

    Josh Mais

    Kansas City Spaces
    http://kansascityspaces.com

  • @Josh – I think Ted Washington above has a good point. One should probably have a discussion with someone from the insurance company to make sure they understand what kind of RCMA activity you are talking about and make sure they don’t have any problem with the fact the FAA thinks commercial RCMA operation is illegal… insurance companies don’t like the word illegal, even though the illegality has technically not been settled.

  • @ Larry – In order to get the quote, I had to describe exactly how I would use the RCMA, describe the size and weight, and give the cost. I did not mention the FAA ordeal though…

    It was my understanding that the FAA no longer holds that stance? Is that incorrect?

    Josh Mais

    Kansas City Spaces
    http://kansascityspaces.com

  • Josh, Well the, the FAA is still appealing the decision made by the judge on the Pirker Vs FAA case. The FAA seems to be the only one that believes it’s illegal… everyone else on the planet doesn’t believe it’s illegal. As long as the case is in appeal the issue is not officially settled.

  • I can say that insurance is completely necessary. Flying in proximity to homes, vehicles, power lines and people is risky. My quadcopter insurance cost me $595/year and includes $500,000 of coverage. This technology is still fairly new and it still has glitches sometimes.

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