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The Tampa Tribune (Florida)
MARK MILLER AND DEBORAH J. LA FETRA; Special to The Tampa Tribune

Few can know the pain felt by a parent whose child becomes permanently brain damaged - or even dies - as a result of suffering a cardiac arrhythmia while playing high school sports. Although these circumstances do not occur often, state law now requires public schools in Florida, and other public locations, to have an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) on hand for emergencies.

But does that mean the courts should hold public schools liable when they do not use the AED? State law doesn't establish such liability, but the courts are being asked to legislate from the bench to create a new duty to use AEDs.

A lawsuit that seeks this result has been accepted by the Florida Supreme Court, and will be heard later this year.

The facts are heartbreaking. Abel Limones collapsed during a soccer game at a Lee County high school. Adults called 911 and performed CPR, but could not revive Abel. There was an AED on campus, but it wasn't used. When emergency medical personnel arrived, they restarted Abel's heart with a semi-automatic defibrillator and intravenous medication. He survived, but is severely brain-damaged, in a persistent vegetative state.

The family's lawyers argue that the school district - at bottom, the taxpayers - should be held financially responsible.

It's possible to feel for the family's anguish without accepting the lawsuit's arguments. Indeed, the trial court and state appeals court both sided with the school district. They acknowledged that, if a student is injured or becomes ill on school grounds, the school has a legal duty to take reasonable steps to help. But they also held that it is not for the judiciary to prescribe the use of specific devices such as an AED.

If the Florida Supreme Court were to rule otherwise, by inventing a new legal duty for public schools to use an AED in life-threatening situations, the impact won't be confined to this case or to Lee County, or even to public schools. Potentially, every sports facility or program that is made available for youth athletics would be affected - whether operated by school districts, local or state government, parks departments, universities, even private property owners. They would all have to be prepared to use an AED if an athlete were to collapse - or face legal and financial liability.

Consider the implications for community-based organizations that offer sports activities for kids. Will volunteer coaches, referees, and parent organizers be required to learn when and how to use an AED - and face being sued for millions of dollars if something goes wrong?

If the state Supreme Court finds the Lee County School District at fault because an AED wasn't used in this case, the operators of public and private sports facilities will have to worry about what comes next. What other medical devices will they have to acquire, and train to use, in order to avoid liability for some hypothetical future medical emergency on their property? As schools, cities, counties, businesses and other property owners struggle to discern what additional devices the courts might require, the price of liability insurance would rise - translating into higher costs for the programs they operate and the services they provide.

The Florida Supreme Court should not allow sympathy over a tragic event to distort the manner in which it interprets the law. It should not arbitrarily create a new duty to use an AED where none existed before. Such a decision might be well-intentioned, but it could have the unintended consequence of diminishing sports opportunities for young people in many ways and in many venues. Not just public schools, but all owners and operators of youth sports fields and facilities, would confront new expenses and uncertainties; and community youth leagues would see their volunteer base shrink - increasing the risks and costs for those who remain behind.

Mark Miller is managing attorney with the Florida office of Pacific Legal Foundation in Palm Beach Gardens. Deborah J. La Fetra is a principal attorney with PLF, which is preparing an amicus brief to the Florida Supreme Court supporting the Lee School District in the AED lawsuit.


April 16, 2014




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AED's, when attached properly, will give vocal instructions to the user. The machine itself should read vital signs and take appropriate actions. It is not incumbent upon the user to have medical training beyond where the machine is located.This is another argument for the expenditure to have Certified Athletic Trainers at ALL home events. While the results of this case are tragic for all involved, courts should not require action beyond what a reasonable person would do. Does that require the use of a medical device that could potentially do harm? We have a student that use of an AED would cause irreparable harm or even death due to a heart condition.
All High Schools should have Certified Athletic Trainers on staff full time. Its the best response in avoiding this like this from happening.
There was a related case (I believe in the state of NY) in which a member collapsed at a health club. There was also an AED on site in that case and it wasn't used. The club staff retrieved the AED but a doctor on site took over care of the member, didn't use the AED and the staff deferred to the doctor. When the member later died, the family sued the health club for not using the AED. I believe the court, in that case sided with the club. The law required that an AED be on site but the law did not require it's use. There is just no way to account for every possible situation that can occur. (I hope I have the details correct).
Are not most college and high school coaches trained in CPR & AED use? As a paid employee of a school do they not have a duty to act to protect & save a life of their students? At the high school I work at all of our coaches, and about 30% of student athletes know CPR and how to use an AED. They even know where the units are located. We also have 2 athletic trainers that have access to an AED that is located on our response cart every day we have outside events.
This is extremely heart-breaking. The point
is that it sounds like an AED was available & not used. A 4th grade kid can use an AED & save a life. Sudden cardiac death is preventable if an AED is used in a timely manner. The whole point
of having them on site is that a bystander can use an AED simply by listening to verbal and visual directions. An AED won't shock a victim unless the heart has a shockable rhythm. A teacher practices fire drills in schools & leads your kids to safety in the event of a fire. The last kid died in a school fire in 1955. The last kid died from sudden cardiac arrest this morning.
Part of the problem is that a person suffering from Sudden Cardiac Arrest doesn't always look like they are having a heart problem. Sometimes it looks like a seizure, and even medical personnel might not think to use an AED. There was a case in Texas where the school nurse thought a child was having a seizure due to some sort of allergic reaction, so she brought an epi pin to his side, not an AED. That's not a unique event. Just knowing CPR and AED (and having one accessible) use isn't enough - there also has to be training to recognized SCA and work accordingly.
Well, I think that there should be a requirement for it to be used, otherwise the illustration I would use is the following if you have a swimming pool and a lifeguard present does the life guard have to act ? if they do, then if an AED is present why should it not have to be deployed and used. Again most schools would not have a pool open with out a lifeguard or have one at a swim meet but if one was present and did not act would the courts not find them liable, so if an AED is present it should be required to be used following standard of care guidelines it should be applied, the standard of care of coacheds being training in first aid and CPR/AED is there in most schools if not should be, again AED's are a standard of care and should be present accessible and used again this may require schools and other sporrts prograsm to think about who do they have to provide emergency care and what is there EAP again they hire coaches and officials just like for a swim meet and diving meet and at a swim and diving meet they will hire a lifeguard, why not hire an athletic trainer or physician to be your team or schools medical director that can put together a plan that even coaches can carry out.