Don’t Let Window Contacts Expose Holes in Your Liability

Most common are litigated claims by customers or their insurance carriers who allege a failed security intrusion system allowed perpetrators to enter undetected and empty their residence of valuables and personal belongings. Or that a faulty fire alarm system failed to notify the central station, thereby preventing prompt emergency response, allowing a conflagration to spread and consume the entire structure. 

To help prevent these types of unfortunate events and resultant litigation, alarm contractors can help minimize their liability exposure upfront. In short, compliance with the respective equipment manufacturer’s specifications, applicable UL standards, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards, and nationally recognized industry standards and practices, are other key examples to address this exposure. 

Of course, alarm contractors are exposed to many more types of claims than the aforementioned examples. No less of a liability concern surrounds certain cosmetic alarm installation techniques; chief among them, the installation of recessed contacts. 

The ability to conceal magnetic door and window contacts has always been preferred by customers, who eschew the more obtrusive surface-mounted alternative. Despite this industry standard methodology, recessed contacts are coming under severe scrutiny by persons who claim to have experienced water leakage that resulted in the spread of mold and other damages to their premises. 

In some cases, the claim also seeks monetary damages for health-related maladies based on what the plaintiff claims the installing alarm company did or failed to do during installation of the recessed contacts. Therefore, it would be prudent for alarm industry practitioners to have a heightened sense of awareness when installing recessed door and window contacts in order to help minimize this somewhat unknown potential for claims liability. 

Water Damage and Mold a Concern 
The genesis of these lawsuits is based, in part, on the alleged improper installation of recessed contacts, which can create a path for water to seep into a structure over time. 

As an example of the legal wrangling, forensic inspection may determine that the leaks are coming from defects in the building’s construction and/or from the failure to deploy the appropriate waterproofing materials on the outside of the premises. In addition, it may be claimed by the plaintiff that the damages have been significantly magnified by the discovery of dozens of small holes that the alarm contractor drilled for its recessed contact and magnet installation.

Here, it is significant to delineate the difference between a recessed contact installation where contact holes are drilled into or through the window weather stripping by the installer vs. weather stripping that was never drilled or damaged by the alarm installer. This is an important distinction given the fact that lawsuits often name the alarm company as one of the key defendants in the case despite no apparent culpability. 

Consistent with this specific pattern of litigation is another group of claims relating to water and/or mold damages where the alarm contractor prewired new home construction for the builder, but was not contracted to complete the installation since this was up to the buyer to decide. As such, all of the holes drilled into the doors and windows for any future recessed contact installation were left “open” and “unplugged” except for the wiring to these respective points of detection. 

Insurers Are Amending Policies
The specialty insurance companies that cover the alarm industry are addressing the prevalence of litigation that is based on allegations of flawed recessed contact installations. 

Many alarm industry insurance policies now contain an “exclusion of coverage” if the installer is providing alarm systems into new construction tract homes or installing systems for builders. In other words, an installer that is performing work for a homebuilder may not be covered in the event of a claim. Invariably, this will result in the alarm installation company having to fund its own legal defense and satisfy any judgments rendered against it by the court or jury. 

Furthermore, the insurance company’s “exclusion of coverage” also applies to any type of claim, including allegations that the burglar or fire alarm system failed, not just for water or mold damages. Therefore, it is vital for alarm companies to review their insurance coverage carefully to determine if this exclusion has been incorporated into its policy.

Significantly, the window and door manufacturing industry in almost all cases voids its limited warranty if the product has been drilled for any reason. Clearly, many in the alarm industry have known about the warranty invalidation for years. However, recessed contacts are still being installed. 

When was the last time that you looked at the warranty limitations for the windows and doors that your company has routinely drilled? Do you want to be the company that voids the warranty on new doors and windows? 

The door and window manufacturing industry has addressed this salient issue by warning their customers upfront against drilling into windows and doors. Notably, this warning and its associated consequences are supplied in the product instructions and are displayed on the manufacturer’s Web sites. 

As a result, the alarm industry may be left assuming liability. Hence, the industry must consider new ways to help minimize its liability from these types of claims. 

The alarm industry strongly needs to consider warning the customer from the outset of the warranty “voiding” issue before installing recessed contacts. Therefore, if the customer still chooses to go forward with the installation — in lieu of hardwired contacts and/or wireless surface door and window transmitters — a separate form should be adopted and signed by the customer whereby the subscriber acknowledges this information in writing and takes full responsibility.

Drill Holes Must Be Plugged
While a properly installed set of recessed contacts is highly resistant to water penetration, the industry must make sure the contacts are being properly installed by their technicians. Also, alarm companies need to be sure all holes that have been drilled during the prewire phase have been properly plugged before leaving the premises, especially if the system will not be completed until later at some undetermined date. 

If for some reason the holes cannot be plugged, the customer should be admonished to execute a document making them aware and responsible for any resulting damages of leaving the holes exposed. 

At the end of the day, there are hundreds of millions of recessed contacts that have been successfully installed across the United States. Most of them perform free of any trouble or threat from litigation. Still, the alarm industry must not only focus on this successful history, it must also consider new ways to help minimize liability from the inevitable lawsuits that do arise. Fundamentally, the technical community of the alarm industry needs to proactively do whatever it can to help minimize these types of claims, so that when a suit is filed they are better prepared to defend their actions or inactions.

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About the Author


Jeffrey D. Zwirn, CPP, CFPS, CFE, FACFEI, CHS-IV, SET, CCI, FASI&T, MBAT, writes Security Sales & Integration’s “Security Science” column. He is also president of IDS Research and Development, an alarm and security consultation, expert witness and training authority providing nationwide services on all issues related to alarm and security matters. He can be reached at 800-353-0733.

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