When to Despair About Alarm System Repair (Part 1)

What happens if an alarm owner has someone not properly credentialed or trained repair it, and subsequently there is an failure and fire-related damages claimed in a lawsuit?

What happens if an alarm owner has someone not properly credentialed or trained repair it, and subsequently there is an alarm failure and fire-related damages claimed in a lawsuit. The answer may surprise you because it’s not quite as simple as it sounds.

Most alarm companies try to arrange for continued services after installation — monitoring, repair services and, especially for fire alarms, inspections. The smart money is on plans with RMR, so revenue and equity build up over time.

If your subscriber has contracted for repair service and pays a recurring charge for that service, it’s likely you will be called for service. In fact, Standard Form Agreements (alarmcontracts.com) are clear that if there is a service plan no one else is permitted to work on the alarm system, fire, intrusion or other.

It makes sense. If you have committed to repair the system, labor and material (for ordinary wear and tear), you shouldn’t have to clean up someone else’s mess when there is an attempted repair.

The same analysis applies to a warranty following a sale, which can be of the entire system or a component in connection with an after-sale repair that required new equipment. The Standard Form Agreement voids any warranty if someone else tampers with the system.

However, not all alarm company owners get or want RMR service and inspection plans. Those services are provided on a per call basis. The Standard Form Agreement does cover this option and makes it clear that the subscriber is not obligated to call the alarm company and the alarm company is not obligated to respond and make the repair or inspection. This relationship is generally fine, except when there is monitoring.

Monitoring changes the situation regarding repair service. Almost all alarm companies provide monitoring using a RMR monitoring plan. The monitoring is provided via a written contract that calls for recurring monthly revenue to be paid over the term of the agreement, generally three, five or 10 years and after the initial term the Standard Form Agreement provides for month-to-month automatic renewal.

Sure, some alarm companies permit a month-to-month term that permits a subscriber to cancel on 30-day notice, and some don’t have month-to-month automatic renewal, but that’s their problem and not a topic for this article.

Assume a fire alarm repair that isn’t performed correctly and a fire that is not detected or responded to properly, results in serious loss to property and injury to people. A plaintiff in a lawsuit, probably multiple lawsuits by multiple plaintiffs, seeks damages for death, personal injury and property damage.

The claim will be a cause of action for negligence, which will require a showing of duty, breach of that duty, foreseeability and proximate cause and damages.

To establish damages, to explain it simply, the plaintiff will have to establish that a mistake was made; a departure from established standards, such as NFPA, manufacturer specifications and custom and practice in the industry. It really won’t matter if the tech was trained or credentialed at that point because all that will matter is if a mistake was made.

The fact that the tech wasn’t credentialed or trained may create an inference that there was likely a mistake, but the mistake would still have to be established by an expert.

A simple analogy may help. You get into a car accident and the other driver isn’t licensed to drive. Does that mean you win automatically? No, you would still have to show that the accident was not your fault and was the fault of the other driver, licensed or not.

The argument you’d make would surely start with, “This guy isn’t licensed,” by which you’d intend to create the inference that he doesn’t know how to drive properly. But you would still have to prove the negligence of the driver. Same for the repair of the alarm system.

Even ignoring code and custom and practice in a repair won’t conclusively establish negligence. It will create an inference that may be hard to overcome if the cause of the defect isn’t clear (as is often when a fire destroys the fire components).

Next month, in Part 2, we’ll consider whether you should be buying contracts from another alarm company that doesn’t have trained techs or use proper, up-to-date alarm contracts.

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About the Author


Security Sales & Integration’s “Legal Briefing” columnist Ken Kirschenbaum has been a recognized counsel to the alarm industry for 35 years and is principal of Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum, P.C. His team of attorneys, which includes daughter Jennifer, specialize in transactional, defense litigation, regulatory compliance and collection matters.

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