ADT has important win in California - November 7, 2016
ADT has important win in California
ADT has important win in California. The case sounds very much like the Slomins case in New York involving the window jumper [see October 10, 2016 article]. In the ADT case a home owner with an ADT burglar alarm received a call from ADT's monitoring center in the middle of the night and was told that "her security system detected a home intruder and that ADT was calling the police". Fearing for her safety and life she called 911 herself but then decided the best course of action would be to jump out her first floor window and run to her car which was parked nearby. The window was only 3 or 4 feet off the ground [not second story like the Slomins case] but she broke her ankle, requiring surgery.
Turns out the alarm was a false alarm. Cause, a lose wire in the panel. All the above are the facts alleged by the Plaintiff. ADT moved to dismiss the case based on these pleadings. On a motion to dismiss based on the pleadings the facts as alleged by the Plaintiff are deemed true for purposes of the motion. So ADT's motion to dismiss was based on legal issues, meaning that even if the facts alleged by Plaintiff are true the complaint should nevertheless be dismissed on legal grounds.
The complaint contained several theories of liabilities and tried hard to state these theories as causes of action. So the court was presented with causes of action for strict products liability, claiming that ADT manufactured the equipment with design defects, strict products liability for failure to warn [this claim actually survived the motion to dismiss], negligent products liability, another products liability theory, negligence and breach of contract.
All causes of action were dismissed except the "failure to warn" and manufacturing defect [the faulty wire]. Here is why the case is so important, in California in particular, but elsewhere as well. The Court recognized that normally a breach of contract cannot support a tort claim. This is an important distinction because the Liquidated Damage provision in the ADT contract limits damages for breach of contract. But the most important holding by the Court was that all prior California alarm defense cases where the validity of the liquidated damage provision was enforced were commercial cases. This is a consumer case. The Court goes through a few of the cases and the arguments supporting enforcement and ultimately concluded that "the limitation-of-liability provisions is enforceable with respect to Ms Green's breach-of-contract claim."
You can read the entire case at:
Two causes of action survived the motion. The product liability claim doesn't have a chance. The panel had been installed for 10 years. Since the Court only looked at the facts as pleaded it permitted the claim to survive, but as I read the decision, the Court doesn't have much hope for success on this theory.
The final theory of liability or cause of action is a little more interesting, though I am confident that ADT will prevail eventually. This issue is discussed in the final page of the decision. It looks like the theory boils down to ADT should have known that the alarm could have been a false alarm and the Plaintiff should have been warned that not all alarms are real break-ins. Hard to believe this was the Plaintiff's first false alarm or that Plaintiff didn't realize that false alarms are an issue. Keep in mind that the Court accepted the facts as presented by the Plaintiff for purposes of the motion.
The Court does not discuss if ADT offered any explanation or counter facts regarding the conversation between the central station operator and the Plaintiff. That conversation should have been recorded, and preserved, and it should have been used as proof on the motion [but I wasn't asked to handle or help the defense - so I dont know if ADT's defense counsel thought of this]. I've had lots of false alarms in my house in the middle of the night. I've never had an operator call me and state "you have an intruder in the house, run for your life". It's more like, "hey, this is the alarm company, we got a signal, is everything alright? What's your pass code? Do you want me to stay on the phone while you check things out?"
I might respond next time, "not sure but I just blew a hole in my bedroom door with my shotgun so I'll look through the hole and see if I see anything".
I may be straying off topic a bit, and certainly beyond the facts are recited in this case, but sometimes central station operators don't stick to the script and talk too much. That conversation can get the alarm company into trouble. I doubt that is what happened here, but we will have to wait for the case to proceed and develop.
This might be a good time to suggest alternate verification, such as video. Had video been installed and monitored the central station operator's conversation may have included, "we don't see anyone or any sign of break-in". Well, that wouldn't be good for lawyers' business.
I can't resist one more issue. Be sure you are using the Standard Form All in One Agreement for all your subscribers. The agreement will be your best defense.