Theft of Fire Alarm Panels Exposes Residents to Injury Risk

Fire alarm panels in apartment and condominium complexes are considered the “brains” of the alarm system, which not only releases an audible warning to residents of fire, but notifies the fire department of the need to respond. firealarm1

These systems often contain copper wiring, making them an attractive, easy target for thieves. Alternatively, they can be resold whole to dealers. That’s reportedly what happened recently in South Florida.

Authorities in Hollywood have arrested a 38-year-old alarm technician on more than 100 counts of grand theft, burglary and preventing or obstructing extinguishment of a fire after they allege he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of alarm systems (about 150 in all). In so doing, authorities say he has jeopardized the safety of thousands of residents of South Florida condo and apartment complexes.

The gear, valued at $15,000 to $25,000 was reportedly sold to a dealer, who paid the technician by check. Authorities now believe the panels were sold illicitly. Some have since been located and returned to the original owners.

During the alleged thief’s first appearance in court, the county judge outlined the seriousness of the crime by noting the activity resulted in disabling fire notification networks which in turn posed a life safety risk to many, many residents. It’s not clear how many of those systems have since been replaced, but our Boca Raton injury lawyers know that in such situations, property owners and/or condominium associations would have a duty to address the issue immediately.

Those property owners could certainly pursue an order of restitution through the criminal court for compensation for the systems they had to replace. However, if a property owner knew an entire complex was without the protection of a fire alarm system and did not take swift action to address it, such could be a form of premises liability if someone were injured or died as a result.

Property owners must assume certain costs when they agree to invite people on site to shop, work, live or visit. They must assume that items may get broken or stolen or need to be repaired. Regardless of whose fault it is that replacement or maintenance must be undertaken, it’s the property owner’s responsibility to make sure the site is in safe condition and free from unreasonable hazards.

If for some reason the danger can’t be immediately addressed, the owner is obligated to warn patrons, visitors or tenants of the issue. To avoid this responsibility is a failure to warn, and a form of negligence.

This is just one example of how a criminal act can result in a property owner being held responsible based on premises liability law. For example, if a perpetrator enters a rental property through a faulty lock and commits sexual assault upon a tenant, that tenant may be able to sue for premises liability and negligent security. The property owner certainly did not intend for the assault to occur. However, the attack was facilitated by the broken lock. But for that, the opportunity for such an incident may not have presented itself at all.

In the case of fire alarm systems, state fire officials indicate that the first missing panels were discovered two years ago. In some cases, it wasn’t known the panels were missing until the required annual fire inspection. The panels are reportedly only accessible to those with special keys, as they are typically located in locked units.

Officials say there have been no reports at this time of resulting injuries or deaths. However, they don’t know whether they’ve identified all of the potentially affected locations. In addition to Hollywood, other targeted cities included Margate, Coral Springs, Tamarac, Sunrise, Dania Beach, Lauderdale Lakes, Lauderhill, North Lauderdale, Fort Lauderdale and Pembroke Pines.

If you have been injured, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Theft of fire alarm panels putting thousands at risk, officials warn, March 19, 2015, By Erika Pesantes, Sun Sentinel

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