Columbia couple claim their alarm system malfunctioned, seek $5.5 million Blaze damaged house's kitchen

August 25, 1993|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

A Columbia couple have filed suit against three security companies that manufactured and installed an alarm system that malfunctioned and failed to detect smoke and flames during a fire in their home.

Ira Snell Jr. and his wife, Gertie Snell of the 4900 block of Ten Mills Road in the Wilde Lake village are seeking a total of $5.5 million in damages in a suit they filed in Howard Circuit Court on Aug. 4.

The defendants are listed in the suit as AT&T Communications Inc. of Basking Ridge, N.J., Shield Technology Inc. of Atlanta and Shield Atlantic Corp. of Laurel.

The suit contends that the companies are negligent for selling and installing alarm systems that do not work properly.

"The alarm system should not have been sold, and the risk or danger of the product outweighs its utility," the suit states.

Steven Emery, a spokesman for AT&T, declined to comment on the suit. Officials at the other companies could not be reached for comment.

The Snells also could not be reached. Their attorney, Richard Neidig of Columbia, declined to comment through his secretary.

In October 1991, the Snells bought a home security system manufactured by AT&T Security Systems, a subsidiary of AT&T Communications, the suit states. The system was bought through Shield Technology Inc.

The Snells then had a fire alarm system installed in their home by Shield Atlantic Corp., a subsidiary of Shield Technology, in July 1992. This system, also designed by AT&T, was to work in conjunction with the original system.

The couple were told that the system, described as "ultra sensitive," could even detect a burning candle, according to the suit.

However, fire broke out at the Snells' home on the morning of Aug. 29, 1992, causing extensive damage to the kitchen as well as smoke and water damage to other rooms, the suit states.

The Snells assert in the suit that the alarm system failed to detect the smoke and flames because of a defective design.

As a result of the defect, a signal to Shield Technology's central monitoring center was not transmitted in time to prevent the fire from damaging the house, the suit states. Once the signal was received, the center was to immediately report the blaze to the county fire department.

The suit contends that Shield Technology and Shield Atlantic improperly and negligently installed the alarm system, and that the companies should have employees who knew how to install the alarms properly.

Meanwhile, the suit claims, AT&T should have manufactured an alarm system that worked properly. The company also should have tested the systems to make sure they were free of malfunctions, it charges.

"The defendant either knew or should have known that if the alarm system had not been properly inspected or tested, the alarm system would be dangerous and cause injuries to persons and property because of the consumer's false sense of security and reliance upon the alarm system," the suit says.

Because of the fire, the Snells say in the suit, they have suffered from emotional distress, mental anguish and sleeplessness that have resulted in medical expenses and lost wages.

The Snells have requested a jury trial for their case. Court proceedings have not been scheduled yet.

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