AEDs and Liability in Public Schools

Will sympathy impact legislation?   

Too many communities have grieved debilitating injuries or premature deaths of high school athletes due to cardiac events. Many schools maintain automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) in an effort to prevent such tragedies.

 Outdoor AEDThere are no federal mandates regarding AEDs in public schools. Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa , Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin have passed legislation requiring some schools to maintain portable defibrillators.  California and Tennessee encourages placement in public schools.

 But a debate has started over whether public schools can be held liable if the AEDs are not used. This stems from a lawsuit that will go before the Florida Supreme Court sometime this year.

 What set the ball in motion

When an East County High School soccer player collapsed on the field, school personnel called 911 and performed CPR while waiting for emergency responders. The AED on campus was not utilized. Although paramedics were able to revive the student with a defibrillator and medication, he suffered severe brain damage and is in a vegetative state.

 The lawsuit argues that that the school district is liable. Lower courts found in favor of the school district, acknowledging that the school is legally obligated to try to help any student who becomes injured or ill on school grounds but not to authorize or direct specific treatment such as the use of an AED.

 Florida ruling could have huge impact

If the Florida Supreme Court overturns the lower court ruling, there is potential for every youth sports facility or program to be affected. This includes both public and private facilities and programs, such as those run by school districts, local and state governments, parks and universities. If this occurs, the next question will be whether AED training will be required of paid and volunteer coaches, referees, and organizers or risk being sued in the event of an episode such as the one in the current suit. And will these organizations be required to purchase other medical devices and provide training to avoid liability? And, of course, this could affect the cost of Liability Insurance, as typically is the case when claims are made.

 Source: Mark Miller and Deborah J. LaFetra, “Fla. Lawsuit Set to Define Schools’ Legal Duty to Use AEDs,” Tampa Tribune.  16 Apri 2014