MANAGING SUBSCRIBER EXPECTATION BY USING PROPER CONTRACT
There is a popular commercial of a bank robbery in progress, everyone ordered to the ground; a couple looks to a security guard in uniform expecting him to intervene. He calmly tells them he is there to monitor if a burglary occurs and then he tells them there is a burglary in progress. Their incredulous facial expression tells you that their expectations of security guard protection while in the bank have not been met. I’ve done enough security guard defense work to know that anyone hurt in that burglary will be looking to the security guard company. They won’t stop to think that the guard is making close to minimum wage and not expected by the employer guard company [and hopefully by the bank] to intervene. The commercial’s scenario is analogous to every alarm security system installed and service provided.
I am involved in just about every aspect of alarm company business operations, from a legal perspective, and I can assure you that a claim that may turn into a lawsuit alleging alarm system or service failure is probably the scariest and most aggravating issue an alarm company owner faces. I hear it in their voice. This week alone I heard it 3 times from 3 different alarm company owners. Aside from always providing perfect foolproof services, which isn’t possible even for you, your contract with the subscriber will be the first and hopefully final defense or protection you will rely on.
Managing your subscriber’s expectations regarding the system and services you provide can go a long way avoiding claims seeking to hold you responsible when a loss occurs. It’s not enough that you use a contract that has protective provisions hidden within the document because it’s not likely that the subscriber will fully appreciate those provisions, especially after listening to a sales pitch how sufficient the alarm system and services will be to meet the subscriber’s security needs. After all, what salesman or what print or commercial advertisement stresses the fallibility of alarm services and the need for subscribers to take other measures, such as insurance, to protect their interests.
Those in the security industry understand that the services are designed as deterrents, but no system or service can be expected to prevent the loss for which the alarm system is designed to detect. The difference between detection and prevention are second nature to those in the alarm industry, but that’s not what the industry really markets to the public and it’s not really what the public hears, wants to believe or begins to expect. Of course the subscribers insurance companies pursuing subrogation claims fuel these unrealistic expectation and these bottom feeders continue to pursue claims against alarm companies despite loss after loss in the courtroom. Occasionally the subscriber or subrogation carry gets lucky. The reason for this fortuitous occasion is almost always a poorly drafted contract or no contract coupled with conduct that ranges from mere mistake to outrageous gross negligence in the performance of assumed obligations by the alarm company.
The properly drafted alarm – security – PERS contract should do more than provide proper defenses when needed. The contract should convey the unmistakable message that the system and service is not intended as a guarantee of no loss, that the alarm company is not an insurer, that the subscriber needs to take proper measures to protect its property and carry adequate insurance and that the alarm company will not be responsible or liable for any loss for any reason. The Standard Form Agreements are designed with this goal in mind. They scream out to the subscriber with the provisions that enable the subscriber to have only one reasonable expectation. Managing the expectation from the beginning of the relationship, when the contract is first signed, will hopefully cause the subscriber and its insurance carry to look elsewhere to place blame and look for reimbursement for a loss.