Commercial Integrator + Security Sales Sept/Oct 2023 - 118

LEGAL BRIEFING by Ken Kirschenbaum
EXECUTIVE DECISIONS
Do You Face Liability for
Installing a Noncode Fire Alarm?
MMUCH HAS BEEN MADE of the issue of alarm
companies' liability for installing noncode fi re alarms.
In the fi rst instance this is a legal question, but it is fraught
with factual issues. What do the facts have to do with the
liability exposure for the alarm company if there is no dispute
that the fi re alarm does not meet code?
The legal obligation to install and maintain a fi re alarm in
good operation is generally imposed by law on the property
owner. It's the property owner who needs a Certifi cate of
Occupancy to occupy the building. A
Certifi cate of Occupancy isn't going
to be issued by the AHJ - in this case
the building department (which may
require the fi re department to sign off
on the fi re alarm system) - unless the
building meets all building code requirements,
including the fi re alarm.
Thus the property owner surely faces
consequences if construction begins
without a permit and if the property
is occupied without a Certifi cate of
Occupancy. But what about the fi re
alarm installer?
In many if not most jurisdictions
The legal obligation
to install and
maintain a fi re alarm
in good operation is
generally imposed by
law on the property
owner.
there is a specifi c license requirement
to install fi re alarms, especially
commercial fi re alarms. The AHJ is
usually the fi re marshal. Installing a fi re alarm without a fi re
alarm license is likely illegal, a crime of some degree. If the
fi re alarm installer is licensed then the AHJ has an additional
enforcement club -seeking fi nes, suspension, or revocation
of the fi re alarm license. A fi re alarm installer might be issued
a criminal summons for working without a permit and the
entire construction project can be shut down if there isn't a
permit issued.
We are not discussing the consequences of a fi re alarm
installer fi ling plans and getting a permit, and then intentionally
installing a fi re alarm that fails to adhere to the
plans and deceives the AHJ into approving the installation.
The criminal and civil liability should both be evident. Mistakes,
however, would result in possible civil liability if there
is a loss and negligence can be established, but not likely
criminal consequences for a mistake that is not intentional
or hidden aſt er the fact.
How does the contract between the owner and the fire
alarm company affect the criminal or civil liability? Proper
contracts designed for commercial fire alarm installation
and service, such as The Fire All in One (alarmcontracts.
com), address noncode installations. It puts the onus on the
owner to specifically request, insist, on a particular installation
that is not to code despite glaring recommendations by
the fire alarm company to the contrary. It also requires the
owner to indemnify the fire alarm company for any damages.
That, however, is not going to be a very effective remedy
if the alarm company is facing criminal
charges and loss of license.
Clearly, it's not good practice
to install noncode, noncompliant
or unpermitted commercial fire
alarms, no matter what the contract
says. The Fire All in One has the
provision only because too many
alarm companies will contract
for and install noncompliant fire
alarms, for whatever reason, though
customer budget is almost always
the culprit. As for an alarm company
that doesn't know the difference, a
phrase that comes to mind (thanks to
my buddy Bart Didden), stay in your
wheelhouse and your lane. Don't
install fire alarms at all if you're not
licensed and don't know code - because it's not on your
Dick Tracy watch!
Civil consequences will depend on the loss and the damages.
If you are a licensed fi re alarm company that installs
contrary to code requirements, you will be exposed to damages
of all sorts. Damages for an undetected fi re are easy to
understand. But be mindful of causing construction delays if
the AHJ shuts down the job, or if a Certifi cate of Occupancy
is delayed or revoked. The cost of a fi re watch could be significant
if the fi re marshal even permits the building to remain
open pending the installation of a proper fi re alarm pursuant
to approved plans.
Nonfi re alarms are a diff erent matter. These systems won't
involve code requirements, will be governed by the contract
with the customer and your liability will be for your failure
to perform or your negligent performance. Just keep in mind
that does include design of the system since you're the security
professional. SSI
KEN KIRSCHENBAUM, an SSI Industry Hall of Famer, has been a recognized counsel to the alarm industry for 45 years and is principal of
Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum, P.C. (kirschenbaumesq.com). The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of SSI, and not
intended as legal advice.
118 Commercial Integrator+Security Sales & Integration | Sept/Oct 2023
http://www.kirschenbaumesq.com

Commercial Integrator + Security Sales Sept/Oct 2023

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