Loss of Property is Not Your Only Risk
A recent case in the Federal District Court in the State of Michigan involved a wrongful death in which the defendant alarm company made a mistake in dispatching emergency medical services to the wrong address. The plaintiff entered into a residential services contract with the defendant to install and monitor a security alarm at the home of the deceased, his mother. The agreement included a portable alarm remote that could be activated when in distress.
The alarm company received an alarm from the elderly disabled woman. Due to an error in the address that defendant gave to dispatchers in response to the alarm, emergency medical services were delayed in their arrival at the deceased’s residence by about 16 minutes. The plaintiff alleged in his complaint that were it not for the delay attributable to defendant, the deceased would not have died of heart failure. The alarm company filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the action. The alarm company challenged the admissibility of the allegedly speculative and unreliable testimony of plaintiff’s medical expert and challenged defendant’s theory of causation and the defendant’s ability to recover damages beyond $500, which was the amount of the limited liability provisions in the contract.
Michigan courts have held that they will not redraft a contract because a party failed to read it. The court pointed out that even if plaintiff were somehow prevented from reading and understanding the terms and conditions of the contract, he had an additional 3 days under the contract’s notice of cancellation provision.
The court responded by indicating that the risk associated with fire, burglary, and the like is not limited exclusively to the loss or destruction of property. Fire and home invasions also constitute threats to persons. The threat can be as serious as death. The court pointed out that the cases supporting defendant’s positions are indeed “legion” and the court will not repeat the many citations defendant presents in support of that proposition.
The court went on to quote a Michigan Court of Appeals case as follows: “Reasonableness is the primary consideration…Defendant is not in the insurance business. Rather it provides an alarm service for a specific sum. That sum is not a premium for theft insurance. The contract in question made this clear. Under these circumstances a clause limiting defendant’s liability in the event the alarm system did not work properly is not unconscionable.”
The court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment limiting the amount of the liability to $500.