Drone liability bill narrowly advances in Florida Senate
Facing opposition from prominent business groups, a Florida Senate committee on Tuesday narrowly passed a proposal from a Miami Republican that would make Floridians who own or operate unmanned drones liable for the cost of any damage and injury they cause.
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed an amended version of Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla's measure by a 5-4 vote.
Drones have become increasingly more common for a variety of commercial and recreational uses. Senate Bill 642 would allow Floridians to recover costs from the owner or operator of a drone if "negligent operation" of the device caused them injury or damaged their property.
Lobbyists representing the Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Retail Federation, the National Federation of Independent Business and other groups said Tuesday they can't support the bill in its amended form, because of where the proposed law would be placed in statute and because of the wording it contains.
The bill Diaz de la Portilla originally filed would have put his proposal under the same section as other drone-related laws in Florida, which protect personal privacy and regulate the use of drones by law enforcement.
But an amended version he filed Monday -- which the committee also narrowly approved -- places the proposal with the state's negligence laws. It also adds reference to the "doctrine of joint and several liability," which was eliminated from Florida law several years ago.
"The amendment language on the bill clearly puts that into the negligence statute, as opposed to the bill before that just addressed drones. We do have grave concerns over that," said Tammy Perdue, Associated Industries' general counsel.
But, she added, "there’s enough time in the process that we could work it out."
Diaz de la Portilla said he's open to putting the proposed law back under the drones statute and re-visting the wording to ease concerns.
The bill has two more committee stops in the Senate before it could even reach the chamber floor. Its House companion hasn't been heard yet.
In Tuesday's vote, Republican Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers joined Diaz de la Portilla and the committee's three Democrats to advance the bill. In opposition: Republican Sens. Aaron Bean of Fernandina Beach, Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, Wilton Simpson of Trilby, and Kelli Stargel of Lakeland.
Diaz de la Portilla previously said he put forth the legislation to fill a "void in the law," because people who suffer injury or property damage from a drone don't have any recourse in current statute.
"We do have an issue with drones. Drones are going to be everybody's favorite gift this holiday season, but they are dangerous," he said Tuesday, citing an FAA estimate that 1 million drones could be sold for the holiday season. "It's only a matter of time before drone incidents become serious drone accidents."
Photo credit: AP