Legal Brief: The Importance of Being Understood
November 15, 2023
Types : Bylined Articles
What legal obligation does an integrator have to present information to a customer in a language they completely understand?
Security integrators deal with many different types of people, including people for whom English is not their first language. This begs the question of how far a security company must go to ensure that a customer fully understands their security system, on-site guidance from technicians, telephone calls from alarm monitoring operators, etc.
How do you handle a customer who has a limited or no understanding of the English language?
A few years ago, my client, a large security company, was sued by a husband and wife (who I will call plaintiffs or Mr. and Mrs. H). The plaintiffs emigrated decades earlier from China. They raised their children in the United States and ran a local Chinese restaurant for many years; however, they never really learned English. This became a fascinating issue in the case.
The plaintiffs alleged that my client failed to alert them to a burglary in their home. The perpetrator broke through a sliding glass door, traveled through a lower floor living room, up a set of stairs (past a motion detector), across a foyer and into the master bedroom. The perpetrator took a safe, dragged it through the foyer and out the front door. It was the only item stolen.
The plaintiffs first told the police that the safe contained $400,000 of cash and valuables. As the litigation progressed, that number increased to nearly $1 million. In other words, they had no idea what they had in the safe – only that it was growing!
Three years earlier, my clients took over an existing system at the residence and entered into a written, English language contract with the plaintiffs. Over the years, the system generated alarms that resulted in calls to Mrs. H’s cellphone (on which my client’s app also resided); in fact, in a 12-day period in July 2019, eight alarms occurred at the residence, resulting in eight calls to Mrs. H from alarm monitoring operators. The alarm operators spoke in English, and Mrs. H responded in broken English (although she later denied under oath that she can speak English).