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Should fire system designer share in liability if there is loss
May 24, 2023
Should fire system designer share in liability if there is loss
          In your recent article in Security Sales and Integration Magazine, May addition, at the end you ask for suggested changes to the Commercial Fire Alarm Agreement; so here is a suggestion:
          As you know fire alarm systems are in most or many cases are designed by licensed professional engineers and fire protection engineers.   Additionally they usually file those plans with the proper authorities for approval.   That being so there should be responsibility and liability on their behalf for the design and operation of it as per code compliance.   So if the fire alarm company does the installation according to those approved plans and it passes the AHJ inspection it is believed that all is well.   If there is an incident/fire and the fire alarm system fails to function or detect a fire early and the installation firm is named in a lawsuit does your Fire All in One include those who performed the design work regardless if they worked directly for the customer of fire alarm firm are responsible parties that the fire alarm installation firm can require to be part in their defense including costs?   Just to note, the AHJ that review the plans have all sorts or disclaimer statement that they put on the plans after review and approval stating that they have no responsibility as to the designed, performance and operation.
          Does the Fire All in One have anything that addresses this? 
Just want to know
          In many if not most parts of the country fire alarms are designed by the alarm installer.  There may or may not be some level of credential, such as Nicet required, or there may be no plans filed or permit required at all.  There are a few fire alarm experts who offer CAD services [listed in The Alarm Exchange in the Technical Support category.  The above question is from a New York fire alarm company and in New York fire alarm plans can only be stamped and filed by a licensed architect or professional engineer.
          Fire alarms generally would fall into one of two categories [as far as design]:
  *  the fire alarm company is called in by the owner or GC and needs to design and file for or get someone on its behalf to file the plans
  *  the fire alarm company is presented with approved plans by the owner or GC and asked to bid to install the system
          Clearly if the fire alarm company has been provided with the plans it wouid less responsibility for those plans.  A design defect would not be the responsibility of the fire alarm company unless the owner or GC’s contract imposed upon the fire alarm company the obligation to ensure that the plans were code compliant and acceptable to the AHJ, despite that the plans were prepared by others independent of the fire alarm company
          If the fire alarm company prepares the plans then of course it has no one else to blame.  Rest assured the AHJ won’t take any responsibility and if you’re asked to do anything you know is contrary to code you better get the AHJ directive in writing.
          The Fire All in One has a few provisions that touch on this topic.  In the event that the AHJ decides it wants something else than what’s in the plans and the contract the subscriber is required to pay for those changes.  If the fire alarm company undertaking includes design and filing those services would be included in the “protective” provisions of the agreement.  In the event the plans are prepared by a third party who has been subcontracted [hired] by the fire alarm company, that independent subcontractor would be protected by the Fire All in One protective provisions as well as any contract the third party may have requested the owner or GC to sign.  In the event of fire loss and it is established that the fire alarm design was deficient the independent third party could be brought into the action to share in the blame, though it would share in the protection of the Fire All in One if the fire alarm company brought the third party in as a subcontractor.  Even if the owner or GC engaged the fire alarm designer it would be subject to responsibility and a law suit, subject to whatever defenses it might have.
          I can’t recall a fire loss case where the claim was that the fire alarm design was deficient.  I suppose this is a tribute to the AHJs who have to pass on and approve the design.  Some failure in the equipment or services post installation is more likely the basis of the claim for loss by the subscriber.

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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