Knowing a man who made threats against your family is being released from custody is a pretty good reason to have a home security system installed. Unfortunately for 64-year-old Michael Martin and 51-year-old Ricky Lee Anderson, the installation did not come soon enough. They were killed by Brandon Willie Martin (Martin's son and Anderson's nephew) in a vicious attack that also claimed the life of 62-year-old Barry Swanson, who, tragically, was at Martin's house installing a home security system at the time.
Now, the victims' children are suing ADT, claiming the home security company and its subcontractor Home Defender Inc. knew the attack was happening and failed to alert authorities. But do security system companies, or anyone else for that matter, have an obligation to report an emergency?
Duty to Dial 911?
As a general rule, the average person does not have a duty to help or rescue an injured person or a person in duress. With a few exceptions, a person is under no legal obligation to come to the aid of another, even in extreme circumstances. One of those exceptions is for "special relationships," where a person may owe a duty to rescue if they have a special relationship with the victim, like an employer-employee or student-teacher relationship.
But it is unclear whether home security company-customer is one of those kinds of relationships. Even police have no general duty to protect people from crime, and some state courts have rules that 911 dispatchers are immune to lawsuits. And first responders have even been granted immunity for rescues gone wrong.
Duty for ADT to Act?
But does that immunity extend to security systems companies that don't lift a finger to help a customer? The lawsuit, filed by children of Anderson and Swanson, claims it does. "The call was recorded, and the attack can be heard," the lawsuit states. "Despite being an alarm and security company and knowing the attack was ongoing, neither ADT LLC nor Horne Defender, Inc. alerted authorities."
Another exception to the no-duty-to-rescue rule requires people who undertake a rescue to act reasonably once a rescue has begun. While no one from ADT or Home Defender called 911 or began a rescue, did they assume the responsibility through the nature of their work? "By holding themselves out as experts in the security and home defense industry and by promising to notify authorities once notice of a break in or attack is received," the plaintiffs allege, "ADT, LLC [and] Home Defender, Inc. assumed and owed a duty to decedents and plaintiffs to notify authorities of the attack."
These are thorny questions a court will need to sift through soon. If you have questions about personal injury liability, you can contact an experienced personal injury attorney in your area -- many are happy to consult with you about your case for free.