Need-to-Know Liability Pitfalls of Installing and Servicing Alarm Systems

Installing often lifesaving alarm equipment and services involves extra liabilities and responsibilities. Tech expert Bob Dolph explains why you must always think like a lawyer.

Need-to-Know Liability Pitfalls of Installing and Servicing Alarm Systems

(Image Credit: Yurii Kibalnik/

I will first start out by saying, I am not a lawyer, but I have played one on TV. All kidding aside, I am not a lawyer and have not played one on TV. I did, however, early on in my security business learn that a good alarm dealer, and even technicians, have to constantly be aware of the extra liabilities and responsibilities of providing often lifesaving alarm equipment and services. 

This month I am going to take a moment to point out some of the liability pitfalls of installing and servicing alarm systems. These are my personal observations over the years, and I additionally suggest that all should seek further professional advice when necessary. In other words, make sure you have an industry-knowledgeable lawyer, insurance and appropriate contracts. 

If you are not sure about your contracts, a good source is SSI’s very own Legal Briefing Columnist Ken Kirschenbaum. Ken once commented, “A lot of alarm companies can go through an entire lifetime without any lawsuits. The problem is that it only takes one. That’s why errors and omission insurance is so important. Make sure your general liability includes errors and omission coverage and that it’s written by an insurance company that understands the alarm industry.”

I can speak from past experiences — a good alarm contract will save your butt. We can go a long way in our daily work by just practicing “due diligence.” Sounds impressive, but what does due diligence really mean? According to good old Webster dictionary, the legal definition of due diligence is, the care that a reasonable person exercises to avoid harm to other persons or their property.  

The four steps to a successful alarm system transaction are the proposal, sale, installation and service. How can due diligence play a key role in all of these stages, and therefore make for a more professional operation? Let’s take a look at each stage. 

We first start out with the salesperson’s security system proposal. Remember, your sales prospect often knows very little about security and will go on your very word as an expert. Many alarm companies have gotten in deep water by proposing complete coverage, only to have these unfounded promises bite them later, when an intrusion miss happens. One should always avoid using terms such “complete” and “100%” verbally and in written proposals. 

Be careful not to use trade jargon that the customer will not understand. I once told a prospect that I would put a motion trap in their high traffic area. The word trap freaked them out and it took a bit to explain. Now is the time to discuss the importance of service and maintenance contracts. Don’t miss this opportunity. Encourage with a slight discount offer. 

Now, for the sale. Make sure that you have a good, industry specific contract. Dealers today have to deal with many new technologies and services. Make sure your contracts reflect these specifics. Make sure you get checked off and/or in writing the many products and services discussed in your proposal. The last thing you want is to have a future situation and the customer proclaims, “No one told me about that device and its protection.”   

One of the many variables we have to deal with these days are DIY or DIFM (do it for me) products. If this is not your standard equipment, make sure you have in writing who is responsible for what. If you will be installing customer’s existing equipment, make sure they really own it.

Now, it is on to the system installation. Double check with the customer that they know what equipment and service they signed up for. This is often the first time a technician will be communicating with the customer. Make sure they have had good soft skills training in customer communications.

Untrained techs will often make opinionated personal comments that can cause panic and confusion when confronted by the customer. The customer may in the future use opinionated comments by the tech to challenge sales and company media.  

Techs and salespeople must build what I like to call a semi-legal intuition about their comments and work practices. It is easy to take shortcuts in your installation in hoping that an intrusion or fire incident will never happen. These are our due diligence moments, so make the best of them. 

Make sure ALL work is signed off on. Take and file photos confirming workmanship just in case anything is unofficially changed in the future. Avoid company unauthorized system modifications (i.e., unsupervised shunts for false alarms). Warning: As a tech, if you ignore this you may find yourself in court someday. Contracted services should always be efficiently scheduled. Technical due diligence is similar to installation practices.

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About the Author


Bob is currently a Security Sales & Integration "Tech Talk" columnist and a contributing technical writer. Bob installed his first DIY home intercom system at the age of 13, and formally started his technology career as a Navy communication electronics technician during the Vietnam War. He then attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering and went on to complete a Security Management program at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Since 1976, Bob has served in a variety of technical, training and project management positions with organizations such ADT, Rollins, National Guardian, Lockheed Martin, American Alarm Supply, Sonitrol and Ingersoll Rand. Early in his career, Bob started and operated his own alarm dealership. He has also served as treasurer of the Wisconsin Burglar and Fire Alarm Association and on Security Industry Association (SIA) standards committees. Bob also provides media and training consulting to the security industry.

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