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Can fire alarm system cause a fire and should contract protect claim for damages
May 11,2022
Can fire alarm system cause a fire and should contract protect claim for damages 
          Can fire alarm components actually ignite and cause a fire [how about the panel that's hard wired -- or in case of security system, plugged in to outlet]?    I know it's unlikely a low voltage component can ignite.   In fact I often explain during contract negotiations that an alarm system, fire, security [cameras and other low voltage components] are never the cause of a fire, so the alarm company should never be liable for the ensuing fire damage.  But two questions come to mind:
  *  can fire system components ignite and cause a fire?
  *  should alarm company be permitted to contract away liability in such scenario?
          Interestingly enough I reached out to a few fire alarm experts and none were kin on commenting on this issue.  Is it some dark secret?
          A little research reveals that lithium-ion batteries can ignite under certain circumstances.  Other batteries and frayed wiring can also be the cause of a fire.  Does anyone know of a confirmed case where alarm component actually ignited and caused the fire? 
          Apparently it’s not beyond the realm of possibly, and perhaps a bit more possible than “anything is possible”. 
          The next question is can alarm component ignite absent negligence on the part of the 1) installer or 2) the manufacturer?
          We know that electrical outlets are frequently the origin and cause of fires.  The wires overheat and ignite.  We know that commercial fire alarms are hard wired into the electrical panel.  Security alarms are plugged into an outlet. 
          The final question is whether the “protective” provisions in the alarm contract should insulate the alarm company from liability.  Keep in mind that the exculpatory clause and limitation of liability provision is applicable for breach of contract and negligence claims.  Those provisions would not be enforced if there is gross negligence and willful misconduct, which would be tantamount to intentionally starting the fire. 
          A good argument could be made that the alarm company should not be responsible for the fire loss, even if a fire alarm component is the cause and origin of the fire because contracting parties are free to allocate risk of loss and limit liability by contract terms, and alarm companies do not charge enough to assume the risk of damages for fire loss. 
          I guess I come full circle to the start of the discussion questioning how likely or unlikely a fire alarm component can be the cause or origin of the fire.  Maybe the answer is that it’s improbable that the fire alarm component can cause the fire absent some negligence, maybe gross negligence.  Anyway, if anyone knows of any instances where the issue arose, let us know.  For everyone else, be careful and be sure to use proper contracts, because without proper contracts you can be involved in every fire alarm where there is an alarm, fire and sometimes even security.

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Ken Kirschenbaum,Esq
Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum PC
Attorneys at Law
200 Garden City Plaza
Garden City, NY 11530
516 747 6700 x 301