Sound the Alarm: Limitations of Liability in Alarm Service Contracts
By Joshua N. Cohen
Home and business owners increasingly rely on alarm systems to protect against theft and property damage. When a burglary or fire occurs and an alarm service customer discovers that the alarm company negligently failed to call the police or fire department, the customer understandably would expect redress for the company’s failure to provide its service. Many customers would be surprised, though, to discover that an alarm company’s liability is often contractually limited to a relatively token amount unrelated to the cost of the service, even when the alarm company is negligent.
Some states view these limitations of liability as exculpatory clauses and determine their enforceability based on whether they are unconscionable or violate public policy. Other states view them as liquidated damages and apply a penalty test to determine their enforceability. This Note addresses the differences between these two approaches in the context of the unique remedy difficulties inherent in alarm service contracts. This Note then argues that the prevailing policy rationales for enforcing alarm service provisions that limit a party’s liability for its own negligence are misguided and advocates that these provisions should not be enforced as a matter of public policy.