Lawsuit finds alarm company negligent in heist

Sept. 29, 2008
No contract in place and home was burglarized for $1M in jewelry

A jury awarded $800,000 Thursday to a Wayne couple who sued their security alarm company for negligence after $1 million worth of jewelry was stolen from their home.

While the jury found that Marlboro-based Complete Security Systems was negligent in the plaintiff's losses, it did not find that it misrepresented what it sold to the couple, as they claimed. The jury also found none of the couple's losses was attributable to violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, which could have allowed for triple damages had deceptive practices been proven.

Angela Roper, an attorney and collector of jewelry, and her husband, Craig, a construction supervisor on high-end homes, were burglarized on March 24, 2005. Thieves broke through a window, but the alarm system protecting the home's perimeter -- with loud sirens and an automated alert to police -- was not designed to be set off if windows were broken.

A secondary alarm system was dedicated solely to a large closet where Mrs. Roper kept her jewels. That "supervisory" system, as it is known, was not designed to alert police if triggered and only gave off a quiet beeping sound inaudible from outside. The couple's attorney, Kenneth Thyne of Totowa, argued at trial before state Superior Court Judge Ralph De Luccia in Paterson that the Ropers didn't know that because the company didn't make it clear.

Undisputed in the trial was that a contract spelling out details of the overall security package was never signed prior to installation. During pretrial motions, a judge found that as a matter of law, CSS violated the Consumer Fraud Act by not making sure a contract was in place.

Jurors were told that, but were left to decide whether that violation led to losses suffered by the Ropers and whether other aspects of the CFA were violated. Jurors answered no to all those questions, despite finding negligence on the alarm company's part.

Angela Roper called the jury's findings "illogical" and said she was uncertain as to whether she and her husband would appeal.

CSS attorney Gregory Irwin of Hackensack argued during the trial that standard practices such as a security deposit and signed contract were dispensed with because the company had a decade-long relationship with Craig Roper. CSS installed security systems on various construction projects he had supervised. Irwin described the deal to jurors as a "favor," rather than a job for a customer.

Irwin argued that the last thing the company would have wanted to do was damage its relationship with Roper, given all the business he had given it over the years. What's more, he argued, Craig Roper was smart enough about such things to know what he was and wasn't getting.