A proposed class action alleges DJI Technology has fraudulently induced consumers into buying its drones given the products are unable to fly for as long or as far as the company warrants without violating certain federal rules for small unmanned aircraft.
The 27-page lawsuit contends that although DJI touts online and on product packaging that its drones are capable of achieving specific flight times and distances of roughly two miles, all while transmitting video back to the flyer, rules adopted by the Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration dictate that drones must be kept within unaided sight during operation. Per the case, a flyer must by law—and without the aid of binoculars—be able to view the unmanned aircraft throughout its entire flight in order to know the drone’s location, observe its airspace for other air traffic or hazards, and determine whether it endangers life or property.
The filing alleges defendants DJI and SZ DJI Technology Co., Ltd. have therefore falsely and misleadingly induced consumers into buying the drones by failing to disclose that the products cannot live up to their stated flight time and distance/video specifications and still operate legally within the federal visual line of sight (VLOS) mandate. Moreover, the lawsuit claims DJI intentionally positions product limitation disclaimers online or away from product specifications on the drones’ back packaging so as to conceal the information from consumers, who are more often than not unaware at the point of sale that they might run up against the law while operating their drone.
“For a consumer to operate a DJI drone based on DJI’s representations and warranties would cause the consumer to violate federal law,” the suit alleges. “It is only after the consumer purchased the DJI drone that s/he is made aware for the first-time that the drone must be flown within the VLOS and/or the specifications set forth on the packaging or DJI’s website are unobtainable.”
Be sure to scroll down to find out which DJI drones are mentioned in the lawsuit.
As an example, the lawsuit relays that the disclaimers and limitations disclosure for one DJI drone model, which relate to operating the product within the visual line of sight and in unobstructed conditions, are displayed in tiny font on the 23rd page of the company’s website:
The plaintiff, a San Diego resident, claims neither he nor other consumers would have bought a DJI drone had they known the company’s representations regarding flight time and distance/video capabilities are unobtainable.
Two ways to fly
According to the lawsuit, a drone can be piloted either by line of sight, meaning it can be seen with the flyer’s eyes, or through an onboard camera, which transmits a video to a personal display on a user’s goggles or smartphone. The case stresses that the onboard camera method of piloting a drone, by all accounts, has become the preferred flying method for consumers, who in 2020 reportedly spent more on recreational and commercial use drones than ever before.
Headquartered in Shenzhen, China, DJI, the suit says, has styled itself as a leader in the drone marketplace as its products are used for everything from filmmaking and agriculture to search and rescue and energy infrastructure. Per the filing, DJI represents and warrants the features and capabilities of its drones prominently online and on the back of product packaging, “separate and apart” from any other information relating to the products.
The lawsuit relays that DJI’s minimalist packaging effectively “forces its consumer’s eyes” to the back of a drone box to view product specifications—namely the drone’s weight, flight time (battery life), distance in relation to video transmission capabilities, camera, and/or recording /editing features—or else wade through impenetrable text on its website.
The case stresses that DJI’s representations, in particular the claim that its drones have distance/video capabilities upward of roughly two miles, are a key factor in consumers’ purchasing decisions.
Out of sight? That’s a problem, suit stresses
A fly in the ointment for DJI drone buyers, the lawsuit asserts, is a DOT and FAA rule mandating that small unmanned aircraft, i.e., drones, must be piloted within sight and without the aid of binoculars or some other tool. Per the case, the Visual Line of Sight Aircraft Operation rule requires that:
With vision that is unaided by any device other than corrective lenses, the remote pilot in command, the visual observer (if one is used), and the person manipulating the flight control of the small unmanned aircraft system must be able to see the unmanned aircraft throughout the entire flight in order to:
(1) Know the unmanned aircraft's location; (2) Determine the unmanned aircraft's attitude, altitude, and direction of flight; (3) Observe the airspace for other air traffic or hazards; and (4) Determine that the unmanned aircraft does not endanger the life or property of another. (b) Throughout the entire flight of the small unmanned aircraft, the ability described in paragraph (a) of this section must be exercised by either: (1) The remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the small unmanned aircraft system; or (2) A visual observer.”
As the complaint tells it, this federal law does not jibe with DJI’s representations given a consumer cannot fly a drone and take full advantage of its stated flight time and distance/video capabilities without running afoul of the statute. At the end of the day, the case argues, it falls on DJI to unambiguously relay its drones’ limitations, even ones imposed by law.
“Even sophisticated consumers should be able to trust the representations and warranties on the Products,” the suit says. “Manufacturers are required to tell the truth, not conceal, and inform consumers of the true nature of the Products and their abilities for consumers to make an informed decision.”
According to the lawsuit, a reasonable consumer would understand DJI’s flight time and distance/video transmission claims to mean that the drones can perform as advertised without violating federal law. The case argues DJI is aware that its representations and warranties on its products’ packaging are false and misleading given its need to advise after purchase that the drones “may not be operated consistent with the flight time and distance/video transmission” claims.
Which DJI drones are mentioned in the lawsuit?
The specific models of DJI drones at issue in the lawsuit include, but are not limited to, the following:
Who does the lawsuit look to cover?
The proposed class action aims to represent anyone in the United States who purchased any of the above-listed DJI drone models on or after October 20, 2017.
The suit also looks to cover all persons in California who bought a DJI drone on or after October 20, 2017.
I have a DJI drone. How do I add my name to the lawsuit?
There’s nothing you need to do to add your name to or be considered included in a class action lawsuit after it’s first filed. For these types of lawsuits, it’s usually only if and when a settlement is reached that the people covered by the class, known as “class members,” would need to act, typically by submitting a claim form online or by mail. Moreover, in the event of a settlement, consumers covered by the deal would likely receive notice with instructions on how to file a claim for whatever compensation is approved by the court.
We’re not there yet though. Class action lawsuits generally take some time to work through the legal process, usually on the way to a dismissal, settlement or arbitration outside of court. For now, stay informed by signing up for ClassAction.org’s free weekly newsletter.
We’ll update this page with any new developments, so be sure to check back from time to time.