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Bill Harper

Murder victim’s family settles with ADT

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

ADT recently settled a lawsuit regarding a Minnesota woman murdered in her bed in 2006 after her security alarm failed to go off, and the case carries implications for the security alarm industry, according to a newspaper account of the case.

Here’s more from a Minneapolis Star Tribune story earlier this week:
 

Four children who survived a middle-of-the-night double murder in Washington County five years ago will receive a financial settlement that will provide for them for life after a bruising lawsuit over a failed home intrusion alarm.
The case involving the estate of Teri Lee, shot dead in her bed in West Lakeland Township in 2006, could hold implications for homeowners trusting intrusion alarms to protect them and for alarm companies relying on contract language to insulate them from liability.
Just how much money ADT Security Services Inc. will pay the family to care for Lee's four children remains sealed in federal court under the confidential agreement reached Friday. But [an attorney for the family], Bill Harper of Woodbury, said the amount was "substantial" and will provide for the children for the rest of their lives.
Inquiries to ADT seeking comment Saturday were unreturned. The large national company, which has headquarters in Florida, never admitted in court filings any responsibility for the shooting deaths of Lee, 38, and her boyfriend, Timothy Hawkinson, 47.
The two were killed in a second-floor bedroom on Sept. 22, 2006, just weeks after Lee spent $2,405 on an intrusion alarm system to protect herself against the man who would murder them both.
But when Steven Van Keuren, a jealous and disturbed former boyfriend who had violated several court orders that prohibited him from contacting Lee, cut the phone lines outside her house in the early morning darkness, nothing happened. When he shattered a glass patio door with a crowbar, a sensor failed to sound.
Van Keuren crept up the stairs to Lee's bedroom with a handgun, but two new motion detectors didn't respond. The screeching alarm finally activated when Lee's two daughters opened the front door to escape -- after their mother and Hawkinson were dead.
Hawkinson's family reached an undisclosed settlement with ADT years ago, Harper said.
ADT initiated legal action soon after Lee's death to argue that a clause in the contract she had signed declared the company's maximum liability at $500. That led to a volley of legal briefs that Harper said filled 10 filing cabinets.
In the broader picture, Harper said, the case creates a legal precedent in Minnesota in that an alarm company's attempt to limit liability in fine print isn't absolute. Such a warning wouldn't cover a "known peril" such as Van Keuren when a homeowner installs alarms to protect against a specific threat, he said.”

I contacted ADT, which declined to comment. I’m trying to find out more about the legal implications of this case for the industry. Stay tuned.