Legal Brief: Customer Education and Business Protection

Dec. 13, 2021
Teaching end-users about the functionality of their systems is a key aspect of limiting a security company’s potential liability

This article originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of Security Business magazine. When sharing, don’t forget to mention Security Business magazine on LinkedIn and @SecBusinessMag on Twitter.

Knowing how to drive a car, use a computer or use a smartphone are all part of our daily lives. We study, take classes, read manuals or learn just by using them. Why would the approach for a life safety device – like an alarm system – be any different?

Unfortunately, too many end-users do not take the time to learn how to use their system and miss out on its full functionality as a result. Then, when something bad happens, they blame a security company for the alleged inadequacies of the system or its purported failure.

More often than not, the security system performed exactly as the customer set it to perform and as it was designed to perform. Just as common, the security system could have done what the customer alleges it should have done – if only they set it properly.

That the customer did not understand the functionality of his or her system is not something that should be attributed to the security company – but an aggrieved customer will almost always make that claim in litigation.

Indeed, I have litigated several matters involving tragic events where a subscriber alleges their security system failed to detect a threat, detected it too late, was defective, or was otherwise insufficient to spare them from property loss or personal injury. While we always extend sympathy in these situations, it is also important to hold these customers to a standard. Just as we learn to use our cars, computers and phones, a customer must be asked what they did to learn their system.

Thus, it is important that your company has appropriate, accurate and current customer education materials. This should include paper and electronic manuals, online tutorials, online videos and other documents intended to educate the customer about their system and its limitations.

Case in Point

I was at trial in a horrific case a few years ago involving a home invasion. Among other things, we were able to show that the customers did not arm their motion detectors the night before the incident. Despite this, the plaintiffs and their alarm expert attempted to shift the blame to the alarm company – by suggesting that a technician did not properly inform the customers about the functionality of the system at the time of the installation.

At one point in the cross-examination of the plaintiffs’ alarm expert, he suggested that, at the initial installation, it is a good practice to provide the customer with a one or two page “cheat sheet” explaining the basics of the alarm system. He added that he routinely uses such a document in his own alarm business.

The implication of this testimony was that my alarm company client did not educate these plaintiffs in a simple and digestible way; however, having already introduced our “cheat-sheet” into evidence earlier in the trial, I quickly reached for that document among our trial exhibits, prominently held it up for the witness and everyone to see, and then rhetorically asked the expert, “You mean like this?”

The expert sheepishly conceded that is exactly what he meant! As he examined the document, he gratuitously added that our cheat-sheet was much more professional than his (trial lawyers love it when adverse witnesses say things like this). The trial resulted in a favorable verdict for my client – partly because we were able to show that the customer was provided with all the information they needed to learn their system.

In an ideal world, all alarm users would learn the functionality of their alarm systems; however, knowing that this will not always happen, your customer education materials must be reviewed and updated periodically by legal counsel to ensure that they are clear, comprehensive and current.

Timothy J. Pastore, Esq., is a Partner in the New York office of Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP (, where he is Vice-Chair of the Litigation Department. Before entering private practice, Mr. Pastore was an officer and Judge Advocate General (JAG) in the U.S. Air Force and a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice. Reach him at (212) 551-7707 or by e-mail at [email protected].