Monitoring Missteps Cost Provider $8.6M
The customer of a national monitoring company was beaten and sexually assaulted in her home. An investigation found the provider recklessly breached its duties to the plaintiff due to egregious central station procedures. The case reinforces applying best practices and minimizing liability exposure.
On the morning of March 29, 2006, a 64-year-old woman was at her department store job when an intruder with depraved intentions slipped into her home. Lying in wait for her return that afternoon, the intruder would viciously beat and rape and hold the woman hostage for several hours.
Unbeknownst to the woman when she returned from work and entered her home was that her security system had been alarming much of the day. Eventually she would seek retribution in a court of law, and last November a jury awarded her $8.6 million for catastrophic damages suffered.
An investigation on behalf of the plaintiff, led by forensic alarm industry expert and president of Teaneck, N.J.-based IDS Research and Development Inc., Jeffrey Zwirn, determined a well-known national monitoring company recklessly breached its duties to the plaintiff.
As part of his investigation, Zwirn extensively studied the procedures surrounding the woman’s monitored system and the provider’s responsibilities to the customer. He discovered the provider failed to warn the woman of the imminent danger in her home and failed to comply with industry standards. Zwirn also contends the provider created a corporate culture more interested in productivity, profitability and quotas than safety and security.
Following is a detailed recounting of the tragic event — the name of the victim and monitoring provider are withheld — and how the case points out egregious central station procedures. It also serves as a wake-up call that reinforces implementing best practices and minimizing liability exposure.
Home Alarm Worked as Intended
The victim’s home, located in a suburb of Atlanta, was outfitted with a basic alarm system that consisted of contacts on three doors and one motion detector. The system was installed by an authorized dealer of the UL-Listed, CSAA Five Diamond-certified monitoring provider.
While the woman was away at work the intruder repeatedly tripped the different alarm zones and the motion detector during a period of more than four hours. The investigation established the victim’s security system was not prone to false alarms and it was free of any technical or mechanical issues. Therefore, the alarm history of the account should have been taken into consideration when multiple alarm signals were being received by the central station.
“This is an unusual case because it’s one of the few where there is no installation defect. It was all about the central station only. In other words, their procedures were put on trial,” Zwirn says. “Their attempt to verify was perfectly fine. What they did and did not do afterward is where the damage occurred.”
Failed Handling of Alarm Signals
The following abridged review of the alarm activity, and subsequent actions taken by the monitoring provider’s emergency dispatch operators (EDOs), uncovers dereliction of duty and numerous issues with the firm’s operating procedures, according to Zwirn’s investigation.
10:27 a.m. — The first of numerous alarm signals from the victim’s home began arriving at the monitoring center. An EDO immediately called the premise but received no answer, then contacted police to report the burglary alarm. Next, the EDO attempted to reach the victim at her place of work based on the phone number she had given to her security provider. The EDO, however, reached an auto attendant at the department store and immediately hung up instead of dialing 1 to reach a live person who could have paged the victim.
10:32 a.m. — An EDO phoned the victim’s sister, who was listed on an emergency contact list. However, the sister did not answer the call. The EDO placed the alarm signaling zone on hold or “test” mode for 60 minutes per the company’s standard operating procedure. Only after the one-hour period expires would a subsequent alarm from the test zone drop back to an EDO to handle. The objective is to continue trying to notify the customer during the test mode; however, no meaningful attempt was made to do so, according to the investigation.
10:41 a.m. — A motion sensor signal is transmitted, followed two minutes later by a garage door signal. This signal activity was deemed consistent with an actual burglary in progress, according to the investigation. However, the motion detector signal was disabled at the time because it was still in test mode. An EDO received the garage door signal but aborted the normal procedure to automatically dial the residence. This nonaction was based on the initial efforts to contact the victim as well as dispatch the police.
11:27 a.m. — A motion sensor signal is received at the monitoring center; however, because it had been disabled and still in test mode, no EDO took action on it.
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