Court: Alarm Co's Dispatch Error Doesn't Create Liability for Death

A federal court of appeals affirmed a district court's dismissal of a case in which an alarm company's error in dispatching emergency rescue personnel to a home resulted in the death of the homeowner.

Dwight Spengler signed a contract with ADT Security Services Inc. to install and monitor a home security system for his mother, Veronica Barker. Barker had cancer of the larynx and could not speak. ADT gave Barker a portable call button alarm to use when she was in distress.

On Oct. 26, 2005, Barker pushed the portable alarm button. Because the security company gave the emergency dispatchers the wrong address, emergency personnel did not arrive in time to save Barker's life. Barker's heart rhythm was asytolic when the emergency crew arrived, and she died in the hospital.

The contract between Spengler and the security company limited damages for breach of contract to $500. Spengler sued the security company for negligence and breach of contract. The district court dismissed the negligence claim and limited Spengler's damages for breach of contract to $500. Spengler appealed.

The federal court of appeals noted that a security company does not owe a duty of care to its customers to protect them beyond the duties outlined in the contract for services. Thus, the court of appeals found that the negligence claim should be dismissed and Spengler was only entitled to $500 for the breach of contract claim.

Security system customers often perceive their security companies as ensurers of their safety; however, there is always a chance that a system will fail. Security companies should ensure that their service contracts with customers are carefully drafted to avoid liability exposure.

Source: Security Law Newsletter, 11/01/2007, Copyright © 2007 by Strafford Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Storage, reproduction or transmission by any means is prohibited except pursuant to a valid license agreement.