HomeDrone holiday gifts may cause insurance headaches

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Robert Channick

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Warnings about the dangers of small unmanned aircraft abound, from safety guides on the Amazon drone store website to the viral video of pop singer Enrique Iglesias mangling his hand on a drone camera during a May concert.

Like Ralphie’s dream gift of a BB gun in “A Christmas Story,” such cautionary tales may fall on deaf ears in the hands of exuberant recreational drone pilots. Damage wrought by an errant flight may be covered by homeowners insurance — pending something akin to a black box investigation.”Standard homeowners policies generally provide coverage for these types of perils,” said Missy Dundov, a spokeswoman for Bloomington-based State Farm Insurance. “However … each claim would need to be investigated on its own merits.”

Northbrook-based Allstate Insurance doesn’t have specialized drone insurance, but offers basic third-party coverage through its homeowners policies. That means if you fly a drone through your neighbor’s window, you are probably covered.Allstate spokesman Justin Herndon likened such coverage to that old-school window breaker — an errant baseball throw.

“If you were to throw a baseball around in your own home and break something, chances are you are not covered,” Herndon said. “But if you threw that same baseball through your neighbor’s window, it becomes a liability claim — something you most likely are going to have coverage for in your homeowners policy.”Herndon said all claims are on a case-by-case basis and that there may be other exclusions to coverage with emerging drone technology.

There almost certainly will be more claims this year, as recreational drones fly their way into the consumer mainstream.The Consumer Technology Association called 2015 “a defining year” for drones and projected 400,000 consumer drones will be sold this holiday season. In addition to insurance concerns, new owners will have to register their drones with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA estimates 1.6 million recreational drones will be sold this year, a “rapid proliferation” that prompted the agency to regulate the industry. Under a rule announced Monday, drones put into operation after Dec. 21 must be registered on an FAA website before their maiden flight. The rule covers drones weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds. Current drone operators have until Feb. 19 to register with the FAA.

In 2014, there were some 200,000 recreational drones in use, resulting in 238 reports to the FAA of unsafe operation. That number has climbed to more than 1,100 such reports this year, posing “immediate” risks to manned aviation, people and property on the ground, according to the FAA.How much damage a recreational drone can do remains to be seen. For new operators, the more important consideration may be how much insurance do they have.