Legal Advice on Phone Support: What if a Customer is Injured?

CE pros need to stay ‘on script’ when conducting an over-the-phone service call to protect clients from an electrical shock or fall while repairing their own system. Where does liability start and end?

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For most integrators, the ability to resolve a service issue with a client's system over the phone is nirvana. You don't have to roll a truck and the client feels empowered! But what if your client is injured during the task of resolving the problem? Are you liable?

Yes … and no. 

According to alarm industry legal expert Ken Kirschenbaum of Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum, and a regular columnist for CE Pro's sister publication Security Sales & Integration, integrators are not likely liable unless the service team member misleads the customer to cause the injury. However, as Kirschenbaum notes, you can always come up with some sort of scenario in which liability could be an issue. 

“What liability exposure do you face if you provide telephone support and the subscriber suffers an injury performing the repair? How about if the repair actually doesn't solve the problem and the subscriber suffers a loss?,” he asks rhetorically.

“Liability is going to depend on how the scenario plays out, because I could certainly structure the scenario to create at least an issue of liability,” says Kirschenbaum.

For example, if an integrator's service rep tells the customer on the phone that a service tech isn't going to be able to get to the house or premises until the next day, and instead encourages the client to resolve the issue on their own. Advice such as telling the customer to get out a chair or ladder to make a repair can lead to a fall. Even unplugging the system from a 110V outlet that might cause a shock can lead to an injury.

In the example of a Personal Emergency Response System (PERS), even the simple instruction of asking the client to swap out a battery can expose you liability if the person does not do it correctly, then a medical emergency occurs and the system does not initiate an alert signal. 

Are these scenarios likely? No. Can they happen? Yes. 

Kirschenbaum says the biggest potential for liability occurs when the on-the-phone service technician “goes off script.” 

“That's the problem that leads to liability. If all the employee is supposed to do is schedule an appointment, then staying on the line to help the subscriber figure out the problem for self-help may not be a good idea. Keep in mind that 'no good deed goes unpunished.' No matter how you handle your repair service it should be clear to you that you need a properly written contract,” he notes.

Should You Even Offer Phone Support?

“Whether you try to avoid an on site service call by offering to discuss and remedy the problem over the phone depends on a number of factors including size of your company and your business philosophy. The issue is actually a bit more complicated because the support may not be entirely selfless,” he says.

Kirschenbaum says repair service is generally pursuant to two options:

  • Per Call, for which subscriber pays at time of service call, though not obligated to call you and you're not obligated to provide the service.
  • RMR repair service, whereby your subscriber has been paying a monthly charge for you to provide the labor and material to repair the system and render it operational.

“You obviously have different incentive to try and resolve the service issue over the phone if there is a service plan (RMR model option). You're not going to get paid any extra for making the on-site service call, unless the repair falls outside of the Service Plan (which is frequently does since repair is limited to ordinary wear and tear).  If you're on the Per Call repair service option then you're going to be able to charge for the service call, and that would apply whether it's an on-site repair or telephone assistance.

About the Author

Jason Knott
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Jason Knott:

Jason Knott is Chief Content Officer for Emerald's Connected Brands. Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990, serving as editor and publisher of Security Sales & Integration. He joined CE Pro in 2000 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of that brand. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He has been a member of the CEDIA Business Working Group since 2010. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California.

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KirschenbaumLegalService Contracts