Precedent Set: Case Dismissed Against “Drone Slayer” for Shooting Down Spying Drone

Saturday, March 25, 2017
By Paul Martin

Annabelle Bamforth
March 25, 2017

In a recent ruling, a Kentucky man has prevailed in a lawsuit he faced over shooting down a drone that entered his property. While the question of where a drone can operate on private property remains to be answered, the ruling appears to be a victory for property owners.

William Meredith became known as the “drone slayer” in 2015, after he used a shotgun to dismantle a drone operated by David Boggs, that he says was flying over his property in front of himself and his daughter. Meredith initially faced felony charges of endangerment and criminal mischief for shooting down the drone. The criminal charges were dismissed by Judge Rebecca Ward in Bullitt County District Court, citing recollections from witnesses who said that the drone was flying under the tree line. Ward also said that Meredith was within his rights to shoot down the drone.

Boggs went on to sue Meredith in federal court for $1,500 in compensation for his drone and to seek a declaratory judgment to define the drone as an aircraft under federal law, flying in “navigable airspace” in an effort to clarify airspace limitations — a legal issue that is currently quite hazy. Drones have exploded in popularity, especially among hobbyists, yet legal guidelines regarding airspace boundaries are still in infancy. The closest case to serve as a precedent is a 1946 lawsuit, United States v. Causby, in which a farmer sued over military aircraft continually flying over his property and causing his chickens to cease laying eggs. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, whom the court found “owns at least as much of the space above the ground as he can occupy or use in connection with the land.”

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