ADT Security Opts Out of Trial in MN – Case Settled for Undisclosed Amount

Posted by , , at 9:40 pm

Many of us in the industry have been following the ADT Security case that involved a crime with especially tragic results, and an alarm system that apparently delivered much less than promised. Now, only three days before the trial was scheduled to begin, ADT has settled – apparently for millions of dollars. The latest update was just announced (here’s the link).

A tragic, high-profile, double-murder case has been settled out of court for millions of dollars. It involves Teri Lee and her boyfriend, Tim Hawkinson, who were murdered in September of 2006 at Lee’s home near Stillwater, east of the Twin Cities. Lee’s family sued security company ADT, saying a multi-layered security system didn’t work. On Friday, ADT and the family settled out of court just three days before a Federal Civil trial was scheduled to start.

Reminder of the Details

This was a particularly noteworthy incident, since it involved ADT, and I last posed on it in June, when ADT was working hard to have the case dismissed. They were not successful, and the judge allowed the case to move forward.

Lee and Hawkinson were killed while they slept. Steven Van Keuren, Lee’s ex-boyfriend and 3M coworker, was convicted of the double murders in June of 2007. He broke into the home in the middle of night through the back door. He cut the phone line. Lee was fearful of Van Keuren. He told her he was coming to kill her, so she took out a restraining order against him.

Where ADT Comes In

She also installed a $2,600, top-of-the-line security system. It was supposed to give her and Hawkinson advance warning of an intruder, but it failed when they needed it most. Lee even had a cell phone back-up system that should have initiated the alarm call, even with the phone lines cut, but that failed, too. The motion detectors also failed. Lee’s family really believes they were betrayed by ADT. The company promised to protect her with loud alarms and plenty of back-up systems, all of which were supposed to be part of that security system in the home.

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 posting selections from various articles – you should read the reports in their entirety to get all the detail. Here’s an example:

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.

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 cases 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 cases 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. I would not wish this situation on anyone: the victims, their families, or ADT itself.

Comments (4)

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  1. Alan

    I’m glad ADT had to pay up. If they can’t make sure their dealers and employees are trained sufficiently to install systems correctly (with continuing ed and verification), then quite frankly, when something so terrible happens due to their apparent gross negligence, they deserve to pay up. They wouldn’t have settled out of court like this unless they knew they had plenty of exposure in this case.

    But will they learn and change anything from this is the real question. To a company the size of ADT, whatever the settlement was is a pittance. Now if more of these happened, they’d have no choice but to make change. Hopefully there won’t be many more of these for the people’s sake, and ADT will still do the right thing and improve whatever deficiencies they have.

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Alan – Thanks for your comment. I like your read of they situation, and agree that the settlement was based on exposure, to say nothing of a high profile case representing a PR nightmare, right when they are breaking Tyco into three parts. I’ve found that some companies use size as an advantage, while others use it as an excuse: it’s too easy to say “We’re too big to change” or “We’ve always done it that way.” ADT often falls in the second category, sadly.

  2. Alan

    I’m glad ADT had to pay up. If they can’t make sure their dealers and employees are trained sufficiently to install systems correctly (with continuing ed and verification), then quite frankly, when something so terrible happens due to their apparent gross negligence, they deserve to pay up. They wouldn’t have settled out of court like this unless they knew they had plenty of exposure in this case.

    But will they learn and change anything from this is the real question. To a company the size of ADT, whatever the settlement was is a pittance. Now if more of these happened, they’d have no choice but to make change. Hopefully there won’t be many more of these for the people’s sake, and ADT will still do the right thing and improve whatever deficiencies they have.

    • Peter M. Rogers

      Alan – Thanks for your comment. I like your read of they situation, and agree that the settlement was based on exposure, to say nothing of a high profile case representing a PR nightmare, right when they are breaking Tyco into three parts. I’ve found that some companies use size as an advantage, while others use it as an excuse: it’s too easy to say “We’re too big to change” or “We’ve always done it that way.” ADT often falls in the second category, sadly.

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