February 22, 2013—Albany, New York—The New York Court of Appeals ruled recently in a case involving the wrongful death of a man at a Bally Total Fitness health club. In 2007, the gentleman collapsed at the health club and an ambulance was called. Ambulance personnel gave the victim shocks from an AED or automatic external defibrillator, but were unable to revive him.
The victim’s family sued because they claimed that the health club had an AED available but failed to use it. Had they done so, the family claims that the victim’s life might have been saved. Bally, in turn, argued immunity from liability due to the state’s Good Samaritan Law.
The New York Supreme Court denied Bally’s motion to dismiss the case and the Appellate Court upheld that decision. Specifically, the Supreme Court noted that the law imposed an “affirmative care duty” upon health clubs; AEDs are required by law to be available the health clubs are required to use them.
The Appellate Court disagreed slightly with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of business law but affirmed that the plaintiff had a viable cause of action under common law.
Are Health Clubs Required to Use AEDs?
The Supreme Court interpreted New York law to mean that the presence of an AED required the business to have people trained to use it and to operate it whenever there was an incident.
However, the Appellate court disagreed, stating that victims could sue for damages if the club failed to use the AED but that there was no requirement for them to do so.
This question is currently being debated in several states. California currently “urges” schools to have AEDs on hand and requires health clubs to do so. If a victim collapses in a health club, the staff can use the AED to revive them. However, California adds the following language to its statute:
“Only those individuals who meet the training and competency standards established by the authority shall be approved for, and issued a prescription authorizing them to use AED.”
This means that only trained, competent people are allowed to administer AED to a victim.
California Senate Bill 911 also added exemption from liability for using an AED. This was necessary so that those who are trained to use the AED are not in danger of being sued if they try to save someone’s life. AB 2041 changed liability provisions by removing the requirement for the user of an AED device to have special certification. This was done in an effort to encourage people to at least attempt to save another’s life without having to show proof of certification and training.
What If I Have Lost A Loved One Due to Failure to Use and AED?
If an AED is available and no one chooses to use it, as happened in this case, the victim’s family may have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit. However, there are many legal questions involved in this situation and a personal injury attorney must review the particular circumstances of the case before advising a victim’s family of their rights.