California Retailers Not Obligated to Have AEDs Onsite

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California’s retailers are not legally required to provide automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in anticipation of medical emergencies inside their stores, the California Supreme Court ruled.

The court ruled in favor of Target Corp. in Verdugo v. Target, a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of a woman who died in 2008 after suffering sudden cardiac arrest at a Target store in Pico Rivera.

The court dismissed the plaintiff’s arguments that the company had a duty to have AEDs onsite in case one of its customers went into sudden cardiac arrest and needed emergency aid, and that the relatively inexpensive availability of AEDs and their ease of use have led to the general public expecting AEDs in large retailers like Target.

In a unanimous decision, the court decided that requiring the life-saving devices places an unprecedented and costly burden on retailers.

The court explained: “When the precautionary medical safety measures that a plaintiff contends a business should have provided are costly or burdensome rather than minimal, the common law does not impose a duty on a business to provide such safety measures in the absence of a showing of a heightened or high degree of foreseeability of the medical risk in question.”

The debate over expanding the presence of defibrillators is going on across the country, and all 50 states and the federal government require the devices in certain various locations, such as airports, schools and health clubs. The court noted California’s statutes and regulations pertaining to AEDs provide immunity against civil liability for those who provide and use the devices. Currently, health clubs are the only nonmedical businesses for which California regulations require an AED. Oregon is the only state that requires large retailers to carry defibrillators.

The ruling is consistent with other courts that have addressed the common law duty to maintain such devices, said Edward Stumpp, a shareholder with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, based in Los Angeles. But there are possibilities for what the court termed a “heightened degree of foreseeability,” he said.

“The court noted that Target has a common law duty to provide at least some assistance to a patron who suffers a sudden cardiac arrest while shopping at a Target store, but found no evidence that someone was more likely to experience a sudden cardiac arrest in a Target store than at some other location. Factors to consider in analyzing whether there is a duty to have an AED present would include the vulnerability of the population served by the retailer and/or any risk associated with patronizing its business,” he said.

Up to the Legislature

The court concluded that the state’s lawmakers should put in place any legal requirements regarding AEDs. “It is appropriate to leave to the legislature the policy decision about whether a business entity should be required to acquire and make available a defibrillator for the protection of its patrons,” the court said. “We believe that in this context the legislature is generally in the best position to examine, evaluate and resolve the public policy considerations relevant to the duty question.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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