A lawsuit filed by an Ascension Parish man whose drone was shot down by a neighbor, who claimed it had repeatedly flown over his property, was settled out of court this month, according to court records.
At the same time the suit has been settled, two drone-related bills have been introduced in the current legislative session, one making it criminal trespassing for a drone operator and the other looking at privacy issues and government intrusion.
“I brought bills on this issue three years ago, but people didn’t really see the implications at that time,” said Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, the author of the two drone-related bills introduced this session.
With the growing use of hobbyist, commercial and government drones, Claitor said he believes there is more interest in legislation now.
Aaron Hernandez, the owner of the drone shot down last fall, thinks clearly defined regulations on the use of drones need to be made.
“I think things need to be cleared up,” Hernandez said. “I just think people need to put things out there to let people know what their rights are.”
“They have some sophisticated drones,” he said. “What’s going to happen when people shoot down a drone delivering pizza?”
He said he’s glad the case has been settled and is in the past.
“I was happy it was settled. The guy’s my neighbor, so I’m satisfied,” Hernandez said.
For his part, Derek Vidrine, who shot down Hernandez’s drone that he said had flown several times over his property, unsettling his wife, said, “Really, the only reason why I did settle is because there aren’t any laws on it yet.”
“I don’t know if I would have won or not,” Vidrine said. He added that, when attorney fees are factored in, “If I would have won, I still would have lost money.”
Last October, Hernandez, of St. Amant, sued Vidrine in Ascension Parish’s 3rd Justice Court seeking damages of $1,260, just weeks after Vidrine shot down Hernandez’s drone.
No criminal charges were filed in the Oct. 5, 2015, incident.
In his lawsuit, Hernandez said Vidrine’s first two shots caused the quadcopter drone to lower to 30 to 40 feet, at which time more shots were fired and the quadcopter was destroyed.
“Meanwhile, my 7-year-old niece and I were only several feet away. That, in itself, is endangerment of a child, due to the fact of the amount of debris that can be scattered from the bullet,” Hernandez claimed.
In his answer to the suit, Vidrine contested Hernandez’s claims and said he and his family had first noticed the drone in August 2015, when it hovered over a childrens’ Slip-N-Slide birthday party at a relative’s house at the front of Vidrine’s property.
The drone also appeared several more times over Vidrine’s property, in August, September and October. There were times it appeared two or three occasions every week, often when his wife was outside on the property, Vidrine said in the court documents.
On Oct. 5, Vidrine was squirrel hunting, when he saw the drone again flying over his property, and shot it down.
In his response to Vidrine’s letter to the court, Hernandez replied he has no knowledge of a children’s party with a Slip ’N Slide.
“I have no interest in ‘spying’ on anyone,” Hernandez writes. “My interest is in seeing the landscape of the neighborhood from above. I fly in large circles and naturally cross into airspace over other people’s property, but I have never ‘hovered’ over anyone’s house, property or family with any intent of spying.”
Justice of the Peace John Hebert ruled in Hernandez’s favor in January, ordering Vidrine to pay damages.
After Vidrine appealed Hebert’s ruling to the 23rd Judicial District Court in Ascension Parish, a trial date was set for April 19.
Earlier this month, however, Vidrine and Hernandez settled out of court at a somewhat lower cost, the two men said.
Hernandez said he earlier had the drone that was shot down repaired and he has registered it and another one he owns with the Federal Aviation Administration, following FAA regulations for recreational drones up to 55 pounds that went into effect last December.
Claitor said his Senate Bill 141, now pending in the House, “addresses criminal trespass for the drone. (The drone is) a proxy for a person.”
The bill would allow a person to capture and disable a drone if it’s illegally on their property, without being liable to the owner of the drone, Claitor said.
The second bill Claitor filed, SB 124, is in a senate committee. SB 124 deals with whether “the government should be able to use a drone in a way that violates your Fourth Amendment rights, without a warrant.”
“We’re looking at privacy issues and government intrusion issues,” Claitor said.
Claitor said he thinks there are many good uses for drones, such as uses in agriculture and in surveying important structures like power lines.
“Like any technology, it can be abused,” he said.