In a recent case in Illinois, a question arose as to whether a party who owned a town home and shared a common wall between their home and their neighbor could join the neighbor as a defendant when a fire occurred at the neighbor’s residence. The fire was undetected by the fire alarm system that was installed by the alarm company at the neighbor’s town house.

The plaintiff brought the action against the alarm company for failure to maintain the neighbor’s fire alarm system. The plaintiff then attempted to join the neighbor as a defendant based on his contractual indemnity agreement with the alarm company and for the neighbor’s negligent failure to maintain his alarm system.

The court held that the complaint based on the contractual indemnity agreement between the neighbor and the alarm company was not valid because the agreement was between the neighbor and the alarm company and that plaintiff was not a party to the agreement.

With reference to the cause of action for negligence, the court pointed out that to state such a cause, the “existence of a duty to conform to a certain standard of conduct for plaintiff’s protection” is required.

The court pointed out that because the town homes share a common wall, the spread of fire is also “imminently foreseeable” because a fire could spread easily from unit to unit with common walls. Also, the likelihood of injury in the context of physically adjoined structures is substantial.

The burden of maintaining an alarm system after it has been installed is not “the kind of constant vigilance that has been found too burdensome by the courts.” Rather, the proper maintenance would require only periodic and infrequent inspection of the alarm system.

The court then pointed out that the case involves a fire alarm system that would notify the fire department of a fire, as opposed to a smoke detector that is meant only to alert the occupants of the dwelling unit in which it is placed.

Thus, the class of people protected by fire alarm systems appears to be broader in scope than the class of people protected by smoke detectors, because an alarm system alerts the fire department that would extinguish the fire and prevent its spread to other units.

Therefore, even though the fire alarm system was installed by the neighbor in his town house, the court held that there may be a duty to the plaintiff adjoining the town house owner. Therefore, the neighbor could be joined as an additional defendant.