Does First Aid Include Providing Defibrillators?

Does Target, or any commercial property owner, have a duty in California to provide emergency defibrillators for customers who may suffer sudden heart attacks?

That’s the question a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals posed to the California Supreme Court Tuesday. The answer may require thousands of businesses to provide defibrillator first aid to customers.  Roughly 300,000 Americans suffer sudden cardiac arrest each year and only 8 percent survive.

The issue arose after Mary Ann Verdugo, 49, suffered a heart attack at a Target store in Pico Rivera in 2008. By the time paramedics reached her, Verdugo could not be revived and died.  Target did not have an automatic external defibrillator, although it sold them in its stores.

Verdugo’s mother and brother sued Target for wrongful death. The trial judge dismissed the case, holding that Target had no duty to acquire and install an AED.

The family argues a common law duty exists under California law, prompting the 9th Circuit to formally certify that question to the California Supreme Court.

“The Verdugos seek the announcement of a common-law rule that would require many retail establishments across the state to acquire AEDs,” wrote Judge Susan Graber.

There is currently no specific law that requires it.  Common law simply means the historic judicial interpretation of existing law.

Judge Harry Pregerson dissented, stating that a duty does exist under state law.

He said defibrillation is the only definitive treatment for cardiac arrest and must be used within the first few minutes of an attack to be successful.

He said business has a “special relationship” with customers it invites to his businesses, including the duty to provide first aid if they become ill or injured.

“Purchasisng an AED and periodically training an employee on its use is not much of a burden for a large store like the Pico Rivera Target,” he said.

The state’s high court may answer or decline and return it to the 9th Circuit to muddle through on its own.

Case: verdugo v. Target Corp.¦ No. 10-57008




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