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Attention Shoppers: Is There a Duty to Provide an AED?

By Robyn Hagan Cain on December 14, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Target sells Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) on its website for approximately $1,200. An untrained person can use this type of AED; the devices provide oral instructions and are "designed not to allow a user to administer a shock until after the device has analyzed a victim's heart rhythm and determined that an electric shock is required."

Target sells AEDs. It doesn't have a policy of keeping AEDs in its stores in case of emergencies.

But does it have to?

Mary Ann Verdugo, age 49, was shopping at a Target store in Pico Rivera, California, when she suffered sudden cardiac arrest and collapsed. Paramedics were dispatched, but it took them several minutes to reach the store, and several more minutes to reach Verdugo inside. By the time the paramedics arrived, she was dead and could not be resuscitated.

Verdugo's mother and brother filed a wrongful death action against Target, alleging that the store should have had an AED available. The district court granted Target's motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), holding that Target had no duty to acquire and install an AED. The Verdugos appealed, arguing that a duty does exist under California common law.

This week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals noted that California precedent doesn't clearly address whether a commercial property owner has a duty under California law to purchase an AED. The appellate court has asked the California Supreme Court to shed some light on the matter, Courthouse News Services reports.

According to the Ninth Circuit, nearly 300,000 Americans suffer from sudden cardiac arrest every year, and only 8 percent survive. A shock from an AED can restart a heart by correcting the misfiring of its electrical impulses. To be effective, the AED must be used immediately. The chance of surviving sudden cardiac arrest decreases by 10 percent for every minute that passes before the heart's rhythm is restored. It's estimated that 30 percent of those who experience cardiac arrest could be saved if an AED were used immediately.

Those numbers make a compelling case in favor of AEDs. Do you think the California Supreme Court will persuaded to find that the California common law duty for a business to provide emergency first aid to its invitees requires the availability of an AED?

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