Drones and Traumatic Brain Injury

Drones and TBIA woman was pushing her baby’s carriage down a Pasadena, California, shopping street when her 11-month old baby was hit in the head with shrapnel from a drone that had crashed into the ground. Yes, a drone.

This was not military aircraft that is used in foreign countries to drop bombs in areas where it is unsafe for regular aircraft to fly, but an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) being used as a toy. In this case, the owner of the small toy drone apologized and stated he lost control of the system. The child was treated at an emergency room for a cut on the side of her head and contusions on her forehead.

People all over the world are being injured by drones. In Australia, a drone being used to take aerial photography of a triathlon went out of control. The drone hit a participant in the head and knocked her to the ground. She was rushed to the hospital where she still remained a week later recovering from her head injury.

In Mexico, singer Enrique Iglesias fractured and severely cut his hand during a concert when he reached out to grab a camera drone that came near him while he was in concert. Surgery was required to repair the damage.

Ideas for the expanded use of drones include using them for inspecting pipelines and skyscrapers, using them on movie sets for aerial photography in order to avoid scaffoldings, and for monitoring animal-poaching. Amazon has plans to use them for 30 minute package delivery. In Virginia last year, drones were used to deliver medical supplies to a rural community.

The organizer of the Chicago Area Drone User Group, speaking about toy drones that fly-away from their owners and get lost, stated that he did not know of anyone who has “ever been hurt by one falling on them.” But an instructor from McHenry County Community College, who teaches the proper use of drones, states that most private drones weigh about 2.2 pounds. If that weight, with no wind resistance, drops straight down from a legal flying height of 400 feet, is “roughly 939 pounds of force.”

Being hit on the head with an object is the second leading cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) in the U.S. Nearly 2.5 million people are seen in emergency departments every year with TBIs. Others are hospitalized and many are permanently disabled. Approximately 50,000 people die every year due to a traumatic brain injury. This makes the “scolding” a Chicago man got from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) when he carelessly and recklessly flew his drone over the Lollapalooza music festival seem naively lenient.

What Happens to the Brain When it is Hit by a Falling Object

When a person is hit on the head, the soft brain tissues are jostled inside the skull. The tissue hits the hard sides of the skull in the same way passengers are thrown around when their car is rear ended or the train they are riding on comes to a sudden halt. The brain hits one side of the skull and then flips back and hits the other side. The brain can even twist inside the head, disrupting the natural flow of blood vessels and ripping neurons from their moorings.

Damage can occur to certain parts of the brain which were specifically injured as well as to axons which work with the neurons to send messages to other parts of the body. This means those with a TBI may suffer damage ranging from temporary memory problems to total paralysis. Even those who may seem not to be severely injured outwardly may suffer from personality changes and depression. Senses may be impaired and loss of hearing or sight are not uncommon.

Signs and Symptoms of a TBI

Some brain injury symptoms may appear right away, like a headache or fuzzy thinking. Others may not appear for hours, days or even weeks. Those who have been hit in the head should watch for things like:

  • Blurry vision.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Feeling of being “slowed down.”
  • Difficulty in concentrating or memory.
  • Balance problems.
  • Sensitivity to noise and light.

The sooner a TBI is treated, the greater the likelihood that long-term effects can be prevented.

If you or someone you love suffered a TBI when hit by a drone, or were injured by a drone in any way, contact our attorneys at Meyer & Blumenshine for a free consultation.

We keep updated on this new and developing area of the law as more drones are used for more things causing more and more injuries.