A lack of signatures

Jury awards $800k for home jewelry theft
Saturday, November 1, 2008

PATERSON, N.J.--In what industry watchers are calling another example of why signed contracts are so important, a jury on Sept. 25 awarded a judgment of $800,000 to a couple who sued their alarm company for negligence.

Complete Security Systems of Marlboro, N.J., was successfully sued by long-time clients Angela and Craig Roper, whose “$1 million jewelry collection” was stolen from their home, according to news reports from The Herald News.

Gray Finney, former general counsel for ADT and an attorney with Finney Law Firm of Mobile, Ala., which specializes in security industry matters, reviewed the news reports for Security Systems News. He said it appeared that if “a contract with the typical limitation of liability provision had been executed between CSS and this customer, it should have been enforceable.” He noted that New Jersey courts’ recognition of the limitations of liability provisions was “reiterated in the past year in a case involving ADT.” (Search “Court sides with ADT” at www.securitysystemsnews.com for more information.)

“Based on everything I see [in the news story] and what I know about New Jersey enforcing the limit of liability, if there had been a written contract, this case would have been resolved in favor of the alarm company in a motion for summary judgment,” Finney said.

Here are the basics of the case, according to the newspaper. The Ropers had an alarm system provided by CSS, which included a perimeter alarm system, but did not include window sensors. They also had a secondary alarm system that protected a large closet, which housed the jewelry collection. The couple claimed that they did not know that the secondary system was not professionally monitored.

The jury said that CSS did not misrepresent what it sold to the Ropers. Had there been a signed contract, this issue would have been moot as well, Finney said, because there is a standard provision in most alarm contracts that basically says the customer was offered everything available and understands what he has purchased.

CSS acknowledged that there was no signed contract between CSS and the Ropers. According to the news report, CSS’s attorney said that contract was “dispensed with because the company had a decade-long relationship with Roper.” The jury found that the lack of a written contract put CSS in violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. Finney said, “That’s really another reminder of the age old maxim, ‘Let no good deed go unpunished.’”

This Sept. 25 verdict may not be the last chapter in the story, however. According to those with knowledge of the case, further litigation is pending. Contacted by Security Systems News, a Complete Security Systems representative said the company could not comment on the case at this time.