California Supreme Court Finding Could Catalyze AED Adoption
Verdugo v Target Corporation
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Mary Ann Verdugo suffered sudden cardiac arrest while shopping at a Target store in Southern CA and died before paramedics arrived. Her relatives filed a wrongful death action against Target alleging her death was due to negligence on the part of Target for not having an AED available in the store.
The case was filed in the California Superior Court but transferred to the Federal District Court based on diversity of citizenship (Target is a Minnesota corporation). The Federal District Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a cause of action. That court found as a matter of law that Target’s common law duty to render reasonable first aid to its business invitees was not breached by its failure to have an AED available at its store.
Plaintiffs appealed that decision to the Federal Court of Appeals. After a thorough review, the court concluded that there is no controlling precedent in California law resolving the question of reasonable duty raised by this complaint. Because of the broad implications of the question raised and lack of California precedent, the federal court panel certified a question of California law to the California Supreme Court and agreed to follow the answer provided by that court.
The question is:
“In what circumstances, if ever, does the common law duty of a commercial property owner to provide emergency first aid to invitees require the availability of an Automatic External Defibrillator (“AED”) for cases of sudden cardiac arrest?”
The 3 judge Appellate Court panel is divided on the issue presented in this case. One justice has expressed the view that there is no common law duty to provide an AED, one has stated a duty does exist and the third has not commented.
The California Supreme Court is not required accept the case and respond to the question presented to it by the Federal Court of Appeals. If it does not, the Federal court should ultimately deal with the question and rule accordingly.
If the California Supreme Court finds that Target’s reasonable duty to provide first aid includes having an AED available, the case will be returned to the Federal District Court, the complaint will stand, Target will have the opportunity to respond and the case will proceed from there.
Without question, a ruling favorable to the Verdugo plaintiffs would be a significant victory for them and could strongly influence decisions of California businesses regarding placement of AEDs and training its employees in CPR/AED. It would bring the issue of the required “standard of care” to the fore and, most probably, result in some sort of legislative response.