Big Win for California AED Programs
Court Decision Clarifies Legal Requirements for AED Owners
Often heralded as one of the most litigious States in the Union, it is only fitting that California’s Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) “Good Samaritan” or “immunity” legislation is comprised of lengthy codes, statutes, and interpretations. While the Aviation Medical Assistance Act (1998) required AED deployment and regular, recurring CPR/AED training for the nation’s airlines, it wasn’t until the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act (2000) that the federal government imposed immunity protection for CPR and AED-related response. Such action was taken in an effort to spur public response during emergency events. The Nation’s legislatures, recognizing the important role of early bystander action during Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), encouraged bystanders to respond by granting full civil immunity protection so long as their actions were prudent and made in “good faith.” Since the enactment of these original statutes, each state has written into law their own form of immunity protection. While the level of immunity protection and the complexity of such provisions vary substantially from state-to-state, AED program owners in California may be finding that while their state’s laws may be lengthy, they may now be comparatively transparent and surprisingly easy-to-follow.
In August, 2007, the Court of Appeal, Sixth District, California affirmed a ruling of the Superior Court, Santa Clara County in a case that involved the death of a young hockey player while participating in a hockey game where an AED was present. In Rotolo v. San Jose Sports and Entertainment, LLC, an AED was present, yet never deployed, when the teenager went into Sudden Cardiac Arrest. It was contented that, due to a lack of signage and notification that an AED was present, bystanders did not know of the unit’s existence, thus it was not used or applied in a timely manner to the victim’s chest. The victim’s parents alleged that the lack of signage and notification was negligent and subsequently filed a wrongful death suit against the facility and its operators.
While the outcome of this case is tragic, and all AED programs should include signage to inform employees, patrons, guests, and visitors of the availability of an AED unit, the findings of the court affirm the support for deploying AED units and adherence to all statutory requirements. The Court of Appeal held that a facility (an ice hockey rink in this case) that had an AED onsite did not have a duty to provide information about the availability of the AED onsite that was not required by the terms of the AED statute. In an effort to reach this decision, the court weighed the importance of AED notification versus the impact a judicial decision would have on the legislative process. Specifically, the court concluded that since the legislatures took great time to write the legislation, diligence in including specific terms in the statutes, and thought-out efforts in structuring the important considerations for AED program management, legal duties shouldn’t be imposed and added in addition to those elements already posed in the statutes.
Since California’s legislatures analyzed the repercussions of including “signage” of AED units in the state’s statutes, and specifically omitted such requirements from the law, it was the interpretation of the court that assuming a “duty” for such actions to be imposed would go against the thinking of legislatures. That is, since the legislatures did not include such statutory requirements, such requirements specifically were meant to be excluded.
Ironically, the court discussed the importance and impact of signage for AED deployment and the assumption that broad signage may play a role in additional use of AED units – where such use may have otherwise been neglected – however, the court found that by imposing a legal duty, via judicial process, may have a detrimental impact on future AED deployments. Additionally, the court found several complementary reasons for affirming their decision to avoid implementing a new legal duty. If a new legal duty to provide signage for AED units were to be imposed, existing AED owners would be required to purchase such equipment (signs, wall cabinets, etc.), creating an additional financial burden for owning an AED. Furthermore, imposing a new legal duty could potentially increase the legal risk exposure of existing AED program managers and may inhibit new acquires of AED units from purchasing this life-saving technology. The court’s findings, and California’s statutes, indicate that California legislatures wrote statutes into law in an effort to increase awareness of Sudden Cardiac Arrest and to support the voluntary purchase and deployment of AED units. Since the over-arching intention of legislatures was to encourage deployment, through strong Good Samaritan “immunity” legal protection, any action that may impede such deployment would be opposite the efforts of the legislatures.
This is good news for businesses and other organizations that install AED units, as it makes it clear that placing AEDs in compliance with the immunity statutes will not result in additional common law duties imposed ad hoc by judges and juries on a theory of undertaking or the like. Pennsylvania and New York have taken similar positions and no jurisdiction has taken a contrary position to date.
In the California case, the Court of Appeal did not address the issue of whether there might be a common law duty to have an AED unit in the first instance, although the court noted that California’s AED statute specifically states that the statute cannot be construed to imply a duty. So this remains an open issue in California and most states. Thus far, the states have taken the approach of providing strong protections to businesses and organizations that voluntarily provide AEDs, rather than imposing mandates by statute or judicial decision. The public, community, and business benefit of deploying AEDs is so compelling that this approach makes sense, although many believe it is just a matter of time before the courts of one or more jurisdictions allow a jury to consider whether the failure to provide AEDs is part of a failure to meet the applicable standard of care. As awareness of AEDs and their benefits increases and the costs continue to come down, it seems that the risk of a significant adverse jury verdict grows, although where and when this will occur is still unclear as AED law is still in its infancy. What we do know is that if AED Program Managers properly deploy AED units and manage them in accordance with all of the requirements of the law, they will benefit from strong immunity protection.