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Drone Crash at Wedding Leads to Lawsuit

A drone crash lawsuit was filed by two wedding guests who say they suffered permanent physical injuries and emotional injuries after a drone crashed into them during the event. The guests, Kneena Ellis and Kelly Eaton, filed the lawsuit against the groom and the event company that planned the wedding reception. Both defendants claim they are not to blame for the accident, but the plaintiffs say the groom should never have been allowed to fly the drone in the first place.

Women Injured in Wedding Drone Crash 

Kneena Ellis and Kelly Eaton say they were dancing at a wedding reception at Searles Castle in Windham, New Hampshire in August when a drone crashed into them. In their lawsuit, the women allege the groom, Barry Billcliff, was in control of the drone when the crash occurred. According to the lawsuit, Eaton's nose was fractured in the accident and she suffered a concussion, while Ellis also suffered a concussion and received a laceration that required at least 20 stitches.

The drone was reportedly flying over guests to take photos of the reception when the crash occurred. The lawsuit claims Billcliff and Searles Castle Event Management were negligent in allowing the drone crash to occur, but Scott C. Robb II, vice president of the event management company, maintains he told Billcliff the drone was not allowed.

"I don't know how I could have prevented it," Robb told CBS News. "I thought by telling him it was illegal, 'you can't do this here.' He put it away. End of story. What else could be done?"

Billcliff, meanwhile, says he was on the dance floor when the crash occurred and was not the person controlling the drone, although he reportedly admitted he brought the drone to the wedding and had been flying it earlier in the day along with friends. The groom told the Eagle-Tribune that a friend-who he would not name-had been flying the drone and came forward after learning about the lawsuit.

"He came to me, said, 'You should have just asked, I would have told you I was flying it'," Billcliff said. "He just told me to tell any reporter...it was a complete and utter accident and there was no malicious intent."

Wedding Joy Leads to Drone Commotion 

Billcliff's wedding to his now-wife, Nichole, also took place at Searles Castle, just prior to the reception. The groom and three of his wedding guests flew the drone during the day to take photos, but Billcliff says near the end of the night he put the drone down so he could dance with Nichole. At that point, he saw the drone being flown, but says he did not expect an issue to arise and did not see the crash. He further claims that though employees of Searles Castle saw him flying the drone, no one told him was not allowed to or asked him to put it away.

After the drone crashed, paramedics were called in to help the victims.

Drone Use on the Increase 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates the use of drones. Although personal drone use does not require the FAA's permission, the organization does set guidelines for safe drone operations. Additionally, unmanned aircraft systems (drones) must be registered if they weigh between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds. Other rules regarding drones include that they must be flown within the operator's range of sight, should not be flown over groups of people, and cannot be flown within 5 miles of an airport unless the airport and control tower have been notified.

The FAA estimates drone sales will hit around 4.8 million in 2017 and could hit 7 million in 2020. Although some will be for commercial use, many will also be for personal use.

With so many drones expected in the air by 2020, chances are the number of injuries linked to drone use could also increase. The wedding crash is not the first injury or incident linked to unmanned aircraft.

Other Drone Related Injuries 

In 2014, a drone operated in a New York TGI Friday's during the company's "Mobile Mistletoe" event hit a photographer in the face. The incident, which occurred on December 4, 2014, happened when a drone, which was carrying mistletoe to encourage restaurant-goers to kiss, attempted to land on the table where a photographer sat. One of the aircraft's blades hit the photographer in the nose, taking part of the tip of her nose and cutting her chin.

In 2013, a drone crashed into the stands at Virginia Motorsports Park during an event known as the Great Bull Run. A representative of the Dinwiddie County sheriff's office said four or five people suffered injuries, but those injuries were deemed minor. Victims were treated by EMS personnel onsite and did not require hospitalization. The drone was reportedly being used to take video of the bull run.

Other drone accidents include a crash landing on the White House lawn, a crash near German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and a crash with an Australian triathlete.

Drone Lawsuits 

Baum Hedlund is experienced at handling personal injury and wrongful death cases and has represented clients involved in a wide range of aircraft litigation, including plane and helicopter crashes. Our attorneys have recovered more than $1.5 billion for our clients. If you have been injured in an aircraft accident contact an attorney at Baum Hedlund to discuss your options.

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