ADT Security Going to Trial in MN – Alleged System Failure is Key Element after Victim Murdered

Posted by , , at 8:11 pm

In the alarm industry, there are two topics guaranteed to make the news: one is anything about ADT, and the other is when an alarm company is actually brought to trial. Today’s post deals with both topics. In this case a tragic double murder spawned the lawsuit – and the defendant is the largest US alarm services provider, ADT Security. But this story has had some strange twists and turns along the way. The incident itself occurred in Washington County, MN in 2006, and two recent news articles lay out the facts (here’s one and here’s the other).

Nearly five years after Teri Lee and Timothy Hawkinson Sr. were shot dead in Lee’s West Lakeland Township home, a legal battle over the culpability of the failed alarm system is ongoing. The dispute began after the September 2006 double murder, when Lee’s family said publicly that because the alarm failed to sound, Steven Van Keuren broke in and murdered her. The family sued ADT Security Services in July 2007.

ADT at Fault?

The facts seem to be piling up against ADT: it appears the alarm system may have been misrepresented when it was sold, and then did not work as promised. I am only posting excerpts from the articles – you should read both reports in their entirety to get all the detail.

In their suit, the families said that the security system was installed improperly and that ADT knowingly concealed it from Lee. Lee bought the system after Van Keuren, a former boyfriend, attacked her.

Van Keuren slipped past several warning devices that ADT had installed just weeks earlier. He awoke Lee and her new boyfriend, Timothy Hawkinson Sr., and shot them to death in a second-floor bedroom in the presence of Lee’s four children.

What Went Wrong?

The suit outlines a series of alleged security system failures: A phone-line monitor should have sounded the alarms when Van Keuren cut the outside lines, but the monitor was wrongly disabled; a glass-break detector in the family room had been improperly installed and failed to activate when Van Keuren used a crowbar to break a window; and two motion detectors failed to detect Van Keuren as he walked from the basement to the upstairs bedroom because ADT had programmed them to be off at that time.

It wasn’t that Van Keuren had managed to best the system, the suit says. The system’s “catastrophic failure…was a direct and proximate result of ADT’s failure to complete its work and failure to properly provide all of the critical layers of security protection that ADT had represented to Teri Lee that she was purchasing.”

Pointing the Finger Did Not Work

Last week’s order by U.S. District Judge John Tunheim denies ADT’s motion to implicate the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the St. Paul Park Police Department in the suit. ADT had argued that both agencies had failed to arrest Van Keuren for violating court orders that prohibited him from contacting her. “This was a Hail Mary attempt by ADT to cast the blame on someone other than themselves,” said attorney Jon Iverson, who represents Washington County in liability matters. “The court saw through the charade and it’s been thrown out.”

Every person or business is entitled to a defense in court, but if my alarm company were accused of having overpromised and under-delivered, I’m not sure I would try to pass the blame on to local law enforcement. Seems this particular judge did not like that approach either.

And There’s More

Tunheim also scolded ADT for being “inexcusably late” in its disclosure of documents that the family’s attorney had requested as early as 2008. “ADT blames its flagrant violation of its discovery obligations on attorney error; whatever the cause, it is unacceptable,” Tunheim wrote. Mentioned specifically was an ADT document known as “model sales call” that advised sales representatives to tell buyers that intrusion alarms, if activated, would sound if telephone lines were cut. ADT belatedly tried to submit to the court new versions of that document, Tunheim wrote. Harper said ADT had intentionally altered versions of the sales call document to serve its purposes.

A Sobering Reminder

It’s our job as alarm service providers to represent our products and services accurately, and to follow through with whatever statements we make about how the system will work. There are plenty of situations where an alarm system does not function as it’s designed, or individual system elements do not operate as expected, and some of these cases end badly. But as stated above, it’s rare for these incidents to go to trial.

This is a landmark case: I cannot remember another situation over the past twenty-plus years where the alarm company seemed to have done so many things wrong – especially with such a disastrous outcome. Add in what appears to be stalling, alteration of documents, and blaming others to avoid prosecution, and it’s not surprising that this case is going to trial: it’s not a pretty picture. Truly, I would not wish this situation on anyone: the victims, their families, or ADT itself. The best line in the article is the following:

Sheriff Bill Hutton, who was an Oakdale police captain when the murders occurred, greeted Tunheim’s order with mixed feelings. “No matter how you look at it, it’s still a tragedy for the families,” he said.

Comments (18)

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  1. adt bad bad news

    ADT is an absolute train wreck. The dealers or Corporate.
    Run, don’t walk from ADT. There are other alternatives.
    You are in for a migraine and ongoing installation, billing
    and service issues for as long as you have them for your
    security provider. Good Luck!!

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Thanks for your comment – and I note with interest your email address! It’s interesting that you include not just ADT corporate (the company branches) but also the ADT Authorized Dealers in your summation. The Authorized Dealers are responsible for marketing, selling, and installing about half of ADT’s new residential accounts, but once the accounts are created the Dealers sell them to ADT, and ADT takes over for billing, monitoring, service, etc. I try not to blame the Dealers for the sins of ADT, and it’s true that some Dealers are clearly better then others. We just wish ADT in general did a better job of taking care of their existing customers. Maybe then their cancellation rate would not be so high: ADT recently reported that they lose roughly one out of every 7.6 customers a year – and the the biggest alarm alarm company in the US (and perhaps the world) should not have above-average cancellation rates, but they do. Thanks again.

  2. adt bad bad news

    ADT is an absolute train wreck. The dealers or Corporate.
    Run, don’t walk from ADT. There are other alternatives.
    You are in for a migraine and ongoing installation, billing
    and service issues for as long as you have them for your
    security provider. Good Luck!!

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Thanks for your comment – and I note with interest your email address! It’s interesting that you include not just ADT corporate (the company branches) but also the ADT Authorized Dealers in your summation. The Authorized Dealers are responsible for marketing, selling, and installing about half of ADT’s new residential accounts, but once the accounts are created the Dealers sell them to ADT, and ADT takes over for billing, monitoring, service, etc. I try not to blame the Dealers for the sins of ADT, and it’s true that some Dealers are clearly better then others. We just wish ADT in general did a better job of taking care of their existing customers. Maybe then their cancellation rate would not be so high: ADT recently reported that they lose roughly one out of every 7.6 customers a year – and the the biggest alarm alarm company in the US (and perhaps the world) should not have above-average cancellation rates, but they do. Thanks again.

  3. Carolyn

    my new adt system was installed just yesterday. Now I’m reading so much about how the system does not work. I have 3 days to decide whether to cancel or not. How can I be sure it works. I’m thinking of testing it by breaking a glass to see if an alarm will go off and the response.

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Carolyn – Thanks for your question. I believe that by internal policy ADT is obligated to make the system work, and that they allow you to cancel service if they cannot make the system operate correctly, for a certain period of time. I recommend you follow up on that possibility and see if that is correct.

      Frankly, we don’t think much of the three-day rule, which is only in place for many of these alarm companies because the Federal Trade Commission requires it. That’s why we offer a 30-day 100% risk-free trial. That’s right: if for any reason a FrontPoint customer is not satisfied, they can return the entire system within 30 days of receiving it, and they get a 100% refund. Of course, that does not happen very often – but the policy is there to protect you. We even pay shipping both ways.

  4. Carolyn

    my new adt system was installed just yesterday. Now I’m reading so much about how the system does not work. I have 3 days to decide whether to cancel or not. How can I be sure it works. I’m thinking of testing it by breaking a glass to see if an alarm will go off and the response.

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Carolyn – Thanks for your question. I believe that by internal policy ADT is obligated to make the system work, and that they allow you to cancel service if they cannot make the system operate correctly, for a certain period of time. I recommend you follow up on that possibility and see if that is correct.

      Frankly, we don’t think much of the three-day rule, which is only in place for many of these alarm companies because the Federal Trade Commission requires it. That’s why we offer a 30-day 100% risk-free trial. That’s right: if for any reason a FrontPoint customer is not satisfied, they can return the entire system within 30 days of receiving it, and they get a 100% refund. Of course, that does not happen very often – but the policy is there to protect you. We even pay shipping both ways.

  5. Sam

    ADT has cellguard which uses cellular towers, I think you need to do some more research!!!

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Yes, Sam, ADT does offer cellular monitoring – but only as an option, for more money. In fact, ADT generally charges about $10 more per month for what should be a standard service. That’s one reason why the overwhelming majority of ADT systems do NOT utilize cellular monitoring – even though ADT must recognize that cellular monitoring represents a safer and more reliable level of protection. Unlike ADT, there are other alarm companies (like FrontPoint) that default to cellular monitoring. In fact, FrontPoint is the only alarm company in the US that has used safer cellular monitoring in EVERY system it has ever sold. Now that’s peace of mind! Thanks again for posting a comment.

      • Michael Johnson

        Wow. I just stumbled upon this article and the comments that came after…The idea that you can blame one psychotics criminal endeavor on a security system is just insane. The fact is that ADT is the most secure and reputable home security system there is. If one installer in 100+ years of operation made a mistake then that is obviously not indicative of the company. Do you want a company with 6 national monitoring centers comprising of over 10k employees, or a fly by night company like ‘FrontPoint’ who is totally unknown and is most likely just out for a quick buck? 80+% of government institutions agree…..its ADT who provides the most consistent, legitimate security.

        • Peter M. Rogers

          Michael – Thanks for your comment. Nobody is blaming ADT for the criminal’s behavior – but there are lots of people who believe that ADT’s behavior in this particular case left a tremendous amount to be desired – and that is why the judge was allowing this case to go to trial, instead of throwing it out. I’m afraid you missed my point. This looks like a problem on the sales side, the installation side, and the side of whoever was responsible for inspecting the system – assuming an expensive and high-risk installation was inspected by ADT after installation, which it should have been. There was a known threat here, after all – not just a standard intrusion system.

          ADT has been protecting plenty of homes and families for a long time, and for that they are to be respected and admired. Unfortunately, they are far from the ideal alarm company. Their service is not consistently good (which it should be), they do not focus on the most reliable technology, and even in the case of interactive services and home automation, they were late to the game and chose the wrong platform. In other words, a company that big and that established should have the BEST service and the BEST technology – but that is just not the case. A company’s huge size (in the case of ADT) should offer an advantage, and not be used as an excuse. As for FrontPoint being totally unknown, just look at our online reviews before you make that claim. You may not know about FrontPoint, but a growing number of people across the US and Canada has already made the made the modest investment in a system that is safer, smarter, simpler, more affordable, and virtually impossible to defeat. And they love the service – that is why we have the lowest cancellation rate of any nationwide alarm company. ADT loses 13.5% of its “ARPU” (monthly recurring revenue) per year, according to the latest public figures. What does that say?

          Thanks again for your comment.

  6. Sam

    ADT has cellguard which uses cellular towers, I think you need to do some more research!!!

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Yes, Sam, ADT does offer cellular monitoring – but only as an option, for more money. In fact, ADT generally charges about $10 more per month for what should be a standard service. That’s one reason why the overwhelming majority of ADT systems do NOT utilize cellular monitoring – even though ADT must recognize that cellular monitoring represents a safer and more reliable level of protection. Unlike ADT, there are other alarm companies (like FrontPoint) that default to cellular monitoring. In fact, FrontPoint is the only alarm company in the US that has used safer cellular monitoring in EVERY system it has ever sold. Now that’s peace of mind! Thanks again for posting a comment.

      • Michael Johnson

        Wow. I just stumbled upon this article and the comments that came after…The idea that you can blame one psychotics criminal endeavor on a security system is just insane. The fact is that ADT is the most secure and reputable home security system there is. If one installer in 100+ years of operation made a mistake then that is obviously not indicative of the company. Do you want a company with 6 national monitoring centers comprising of over 10k employees, or a fly by night company like ‘FrontPoint’ who is totally unknown and is most likely just out for a quick buck? 80+% of government institutions agree…..its ADT who provides the most consistent, legitimate security.

        • Peter M. Rogers

          Michael – Thanks for your comment. Nobody is blaming ADT for the criminal’s behavior – but there are lots of people who believe that ADT’s behavior in this particular case left a tremendous amount to be desired – and that is why the judge was allowing this case to go to trial, instead of throwing it out. I’m afraid you missed my point. This looks like a problem on the sales side, the installation side, and the side of whoever was responsible for inspecting the system – assuming an expensive and high-risk installation was inspected by ADT after installation, which it should have been. There was a known threat here, after all – not just a standard intrusion system.

          ADT has been protecting plenty of homes and families for a long time, and for that they are to be respected and admired. Unfortunately, they are far from the ideal alarm company. Their service is not consistently good (which it should be), they do not focus on the most reliable technology, and even in the case of interactive services and home automation, they were late to the game and chose the wrong platform. In other words, a company that big and that established should have the BEST service and the BEST technology – but that is just not the case. A company’s huge size (in the case of ADT) should offer an advantage, and not be used as an excuse. As for FrontPoint being totally unknown, just look at our online reviews before you make that claim. You may not know about FrontPoint, but a growing number of people across the US and Canada has already made the made the modest investment in a system that is safer, smarter, simpler, more affordable, and virtually impossible to defeat. And they love the service – that is why we have the lowest cancellation rate of any nationwide alarm company. ADT loses 13.5% of its “ARPU” (monthly recurring revenue) per year, according to the latest public figures. What does that say?

          Thanks again for your comment.

  7. Alan

    Interesting. May justice prevail, to the extent possible at this point anyway.

  8. Alan

    Interesting. May justice prevail, to the extent possible at this point anyway.