Some deaths feel accidental, tragic, unavoidable. And some others feel so easily preventable. Malfunctions and accidents happen, but we hope that the systems we put in place to protect us from those inevitable dangers will work. And when they don’t, we want to hold them accountable.
So it’s understandable that a person might expect a home security system, one that promised to alert authorities in case of alarm, wouldn’t ignore two warnings and unanswered calls and “inexplicably” clear an incident, especially when that incident is a deadly house fire. But that’s what happened to Elizabeth Frost, who died of smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning after a fire in her home. So, is the home security system to blame?
Frost’s family filed a wrongful death suit against ADT on behalf of her son, accusing the company of fraud, deception, and breaching the Kansas consumer protection act. According to the lawsuit, the security company was initially alerted to a problem at the home at around 1:30 a.m., receiving a first alarm for a broken glass window and a second for a failure of the home system’s main keypad. An ADT employee attempted to contact Frost and her mother, but their calls went unanswered. Instead of attempting to contact first responders, however, the employee cleared the incident around a half hour later.
City employees finally dialed 911 to report the fire around 3 a.m., about 90 minutes after the first alarm at Frost’s residence. Frost’s body was pulled from her burning home and she died later at a hospital. Topeka’s WIBW is reporting that the family’s civil suit has been dismissed, however, apparently because it did not provide sufficient facts to support the family’s claims for relief.
Failure to Act
Without more information, it’s hard to speculate why U.S. District Court Judge Julie Robinson dismissed the lawsuit. But there are a couple general legal theories that could explain it. First, there is no general requirement to lend help to someone in need, absent some special relationship or knowledge. Additionally, there is not even a legal requirement to call 911 in an emergency in most states.
And while ADT may not have had a general duty to contact authorities, it remains unclear exactly what guarantees it made to Frost or her family in its marketing materials. For the most part, liability of fire injury or death is going to be limited to the persons or people who started a fire, and not those who failed to report it.
If you or a family member has been injured in a house fire, contact an experienced local attorney.