Minnesota Incident and Lawsuit Involving ADT Revisited

Posted by , , at 10:25 am

Back in 2011, October 3, to be exact, I posted on the culmination of a highly publicized lawsuit filed against ADT after a woman was murdered in her home by her ex-boyfriend – when her ADT alarm system apparently failed to detect the perpetrator’s entry, or to signal an alarm related to that entry. A recent article appears to address the same incident, including the events leading up to the murder, and examines exactly what one expert said what was wrong with the system’s design – and its installation. For some reason the latest article does not name ADT as the company involved, but from the description of events, the location, and the time frame, there appears to be little doubt that ADT is the unnamed alarm company.

A bloodthirsty man invaded a small-town Minnesota home in 2006 and took the lives of his former girlfriend and her companion. The details that explain how the murderer was able to accomplish the break-in and move through the house undetected would ultimately persuade a nationally-based alarm company to settle out of court years later for an undisclosed sum, thought to be many millions of dollars.

Background on the Case

In hopes of gaining early detection of her stalker’s presence should he attempt a home invasion, the victim had recently purchased a customized security system worth several thousand dollars. It included an inside siren, an outside siren, motion detection, panic alarm, two keypad sounders, an outside strobe light, perimeter system and more, all of which would activate at the same time, once the system detected an intruder. Or it should have performed as such, as was explained to the 38-year-old woman by an alarm company salesman. When the attacker did come for her, the system failed catastrophically.

Findings of Fault

An investigation on behalf of the woman’s estate, led by forensic alarm industry expert and president of Teaneck, N.J.-based IDS Research and Development Inc., Jeffrey Zwirn, determined the company recklessly breached its duties to its customer. Zwirn’s investigation found that if the security company had designed, installed and programmed the security system as it had promised and according to industry standards and manufacturers’ installation and programming specifications, in all likelihood Jane and her companion would be alive today. This case is a wake-up call that reinforces implementing best practices and minimizing liability exposure.

The article then goes on to explain in detail three significant failings of the system:

  • How the system was designed to communicate to the monitoring center
  • Glassbreak sensor placement
  • Motion sensor placement and wiring

Rather than reprint all the details here, I strongly suggest that you read the full article, since there is much to be learned about alarm systems work – and about the assumptions we all tend to make in working with large, well-established companies. I find this article a real wake-up call.

Details of the Crime

The security system at Jane’s residence had been in place for more than a month when her killer arrived at the home in the early morning hours of Sept. 22. Along with the murder weapon, a .22-caliber pistol, the perpetrator carried with him a pair of wire cutters. His initial act before attempting to gain entry to the home was to cut the exposed outside telephone lines. “It was foreseeable he would cut the phone lines as the first method of breaking into the house. It was detectable and    preventable,” Zwirn says.

Cellular Monitoring is Safer

For one thing, the system could have defaulted to safer cellular monitoring… the kind sold by FrontPoint in every system we sell – and every system we have every sold. In fact, FrontPoint has never based its peace of mind on a vulnerable phone line – or even offered monitoring over a traditional phone line.

Expert Opines

“They [the victims] had a fatally false sense of security. There were layers of protection that were designed to detect this person in the insipient stages of his attack,” Zwirn says. “Each layer failed. Not for what he did or didn’t do, but because the system was never properly configured. It was never properly tested. It was never properly designed.  Jane never received proper training and the system was left incomplete. This guy didn’t beat the alarm system. The alarm system beat itself based on the improper, flawed design, recommendations and system’s purported installation.”

As I said in my post a year and a half ago, this was a landmark case. I cannot remember another situation over my past twenty-plus years in this industry 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 alarm company itself.

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