Can Your Company Afford a $2.5M Judgment?

A panic alarm system’s failure during the brutal attack of a hotel clerk exposes the installing company’s negligence. The case reinforces the importance of following established and best practices to deliver true security/life safety while minimizing liability.

A proper security survey and needs analysis, along with having all the proper policies and procedures in place, is crucial before you design and install any potentially lifesaving system. Doing so will help minimize your liability, and better protect your clients and others who regularly rely on these systems for their protection during an emergency.

There are many critical questions you must address. When your company designs, installs and monitors a silent panic alarm system in a commercial premises, what security purpose does it serve? What degree of reliability does your security system provide? How have you technically quantified its reliability and how important is system reliability? What electronic safeguards are in place to mitigate an impairment that might render all or part of the alarm system nonfunctional? What action occurs once you and/or your central station receive information of a system problem? What type of training and/or supervision do you provide your technicians and what standards do they follow when providing this particular type of security alarm service?

The following actual legal case study concerning a panic alarm system illustrates why the aforementioned is extremely important for you and your company to focus on for each and every installation. To that end, if you fail to prepare against this egregious course of conduct, the consequences can be catastrophic.

Attack Injures, Traumatizes Clerk

For the purposes of this article, the alarm company featured in this case will be fictitiously referred to as ZXZ Alarm Systems. This company was contracted by the Hampton Inn to design, install and monitor an emergency silent panic button alarm system. It consisted of two hardwired momentary panic buttons, a control panel set, a system keypad, backup battery and a system transformer. One of the panic buttons was located by the front desk. The other initiating device was installed and placed between the general manager’s office and the bathroom entranceway.

One day at about 4 a.m., the hotel’s front desk clerk was suddenly and without warning brutally attacked by a male guest who had jumped through the store window. The assault went on for approximately 30 minutes. The woman repeatedly fought off the attacker and began to push the emergency panic button within the first two minutes of the attack. The panic button she activated was later found to be soaked in blood due to her finger being bitten by the assailant.

The victim wound up escaping from her captor by running down a hallway and desperately banging on doors for help. Finally, a guest let her into their room where they called 911. The perpetrator was then captured at the scene by the responding police.

If the system had been fully functional, the police department would have been immediately dispatched to the premises. Despite the installation of a panic alarm system, the central monitoring station never received any signals and the police department was not dispatched to the premises. During the investigation it was quantified that if a signal had been sent to the central station, in all likelihood, the police would have arrived within about two minutes after the system was activated.

The victim suffered both serious and permanent physical and emotional injuries, including damage to her finger. Legal action ensued with a suit being filed against the alarm company.

The foundation of the case was predicated on some additional key facts. The alarm company had the duty to properly design, recommend, select, program, install, service, maintain and monitor the emergency silent panic button alarm system at the Hampton Inn. It also had the duty to comply with manufacturer specifications, UL standards, the National Electrical Code (NEC), recognized industry standards and practices, and state requirements for licensed alarm contractors.

The central station had the duty to immediately notify and dispatch police when it received a panic alarm signal from the Hampton Inn. It also had the duty to notify the hotel of any system impairment, such as a timer test failure. The central station should have communicated the criticality of this identified system failure to the end user/owner. This is especially true given the prolonged period of time it was aware of the system failure prior to the brutal attack.

[IMAGE]12029[/IMAGE]Probe Reveals Why System Failed

The subsequent forensic investigation uncovered serious defects and irregularities in the system’s design, recommendations, application, equipment selection, programming, installation and central station monitoring. These are highlighted in the following list.

  1. The control panel was found to be UL Listed for household use only. Therefore, the control panel selected by the alarm company was not listed or suitable for its intended purpose.
  2. The overall installation was in gross deviation to equipment manufacturer specifications, UL standards, the NEC, recognized industry standards and practices, and Chapter 31A of the Fire Alarm, Burglar Alarm and Locksmith Licensees and Businesses Act of New Jersey.
  3. The control panel was not found to be electrically grounded, a violation of manufacturer specifications, UL, NEC and industry standards.

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