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Michael Napolitano Authors, "Court of Appeals to Consider Whether Health Clubs Are Obligated to Use Mandated Defibrillators"

Jan 2, 2013

This term, the New York State Court of Appeals will determine whether health clubs in New York are obligated to use mandatory automated external defibrillators (AEDs) when a patron has gone into cardiac arrest. At issue before the Court is whether heart attack victims or their survivors can successfully sue a health club if an AED on the premises is not actually used.

General Business Law § 627-a mandates that health clubs with at least 500 members be equipped with an AED and be staffed with at least one employee who is knowledgeable about how to use the device. AEDs are designed to shock the hearts of cardiac arrest victims back to activity.

In the case before the Court, a 60 year old man collapsed while playing racquetball at a health club. While an AED was present along with an employee trained in its use, a doctor and medical student who were in the club at the time “treated” the man until emergency personnel arrived and the AED was never in fact used. The man was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

The man’s son commenced suit against the health club. The Second Department ruled that health clubs have an affirmative duty to use AEDs in an emergency such as the one here, even though the statute is silent about such a duty holding that there would be no purpose behind the AED statute if there was not an accompanying duty to actually use the AED to save lives.

The defendant health club argued that such an interpretation would strip “Good Samaritans” of the general immunity they enjoy and could have a detrimental effect of discouraging people from voluntarily providing emergency medical services.

The Court of Appeals should affirm the Second Department’s ruling. The risk of heart attacks following strenuous exercise is well recognized, and it has also been documented that the use of AED devices in such instances can be particularly effective if defibrillation is administered in the first few minutes after the cardiac episode commences. The laudatory purpose of the statute was to increase the number of lives that could be saved through the use of available AED devices at health club facilities. Although the statute does not contain any provision that specifically imposes an affirmative duty upon the facility to make use of its required AEDs, it also does not contain any provision stating that there is no duty to act. It is illogical to conclude that no such duty exists. Why statutorily mandate a health club facility to provide the device if there no concomitant requirement to use it? The Court of Appeals should affirm the Second Department and protect the health of all New Yorkers.