Recurring bill to make security companies liable

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Thursday, May 1, 2003

ALBANY, N.Y. - A bill sitting in committee in the New York State Assembly that seeks to remove liability exemptions from contracts between alarm end users and security companies is raising eyebrows of alarm officials here, both for its content and its repeated introduction.
Introduced by Assemblyman Jeff Klein in early February, the bill would amend the portion of the state’s general obligations law to declare void and unenforceable the agreements that indemnify or exempt security dealers, monitoring companies and manufacturers from liability for negligence.

Because the monitoring contracts include disclaimers or indemnification clauses limiting the company’s liability, victims of negligence are denied proper damages in the event of an incident, the bill’s documents read.

“This would virtually destroy the alarm industry in New York without the basic protections, and this is obviously for the interests of not only our members, but for the entire industry,” said John Lombardi, president of the New York Burglar & Fire Alarm Association and president of Commercial Instruments & Alarm Systems in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “We take a very strong position not to have it pass.”

While Lombardi said the association’s legislative committee and lobbying firm are watching the bill’s status as it sat, at press time, before the Judicial Committee, the association and alarm dealers have fought this fight before.

“The bill is presented (and fails) every year and we hope the legislators recognize that the bill is not appropriate,” said Ken Kirschenbaum, an attorney who represents the NYBFAA.

While Assemblyman Klein’s office could not comment on the reason behind the repeated reintroduction of the bill, Shelly Andrews, Klein’s council, said that a large portion of the bill is objecting to the boilerplate contract that end-users sign when purchasing a security system.

“If a security company dropped the ball, the homeowner or alarm owner would have little recourse against the company other than a refund of what they had already paid,” Andrews said.

According to Andrews, the bill was originally drafted by state Senator Guy Velella, whose spokesperson did not return calls for comment.

Dale Eller, executive director for the NYBFAA, said that he has seen nothing regionally or nationally criticizing the “boilerplate” contracts used by the industry.