Life-Saving Benefits of Defibrillators Outweigh Liability Concerns

June 19, 2002
Although some businesses fear that implementing a workplace automated external defibrillator (AED) program could increase their liability exposure, the opposite could be true, according to a loss control expert with The Hartford Financial Services Group.

"Liability concerns should not be a barrier to implementing an effective AED program," says Alan T. Relyea, executive technical consultant with The Hartford's loss control department.

Not only do the life-saving benefits of a well-conceived AED program outweigh the potential downside, but, increasingly, failure to provide an AED in the event of sudden cardiac arrest is becoming a liability concern.

"As the public's recognition of the value of accessible AEDs increases, so will the expectation of their availability," says Relyea. "If an attorney can establish a reasonable expectation that your business should have provided an AED and you failed to do so, you could face costly legal action." He notes several recent cases in which companies were found liable for failing to have an AED on site when needed.

According to Relyea, federal and state "Good Samaritan" statutes, which provide immunity from liability for those who render aid to someone in need of medical assistance "without the expectation of compensation and in the absence of willful misconduct or gross negligence," have been modified to include use of an AED. He also cited the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act of 2000 (CASA), which may provide an additional layer of protection against liability to the user and acquirer of an AED.

Each year, sudden cardiac arrest claims the lives of more than 350,000 people in the United States. Studies show that survivability rates can be greatly improved if victims are treated immediately with defibrillation, an electrical pulse that can help the heart resume a more normal, productive rhythm. But time is critical since defibrillation must be applied within minutes of the attack.

"Survival rates drop to less than 2 percent after only 10 minutes, yet with traffic congestion and other factors, it takes the average U.S. emergency medical services (EMS) team six to 12 minutes to arrive at the scene of the medical emergency," Relyea said.

While the various legal protections minimize the risk of successful litigation against good-faith use of an AED, Relyea advised business owners to follow established practices when placing AEDs and provide appropriate maintenance and training. The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine provides the following guidelines for establishing an AED program:

  • Establish a centralized management system for the AED;
  • Secure medical direction and control of the workplace AED program;
  • Ensure awareness of and compliance with federal and state regulations;
  • Develop a written AED program description for each location;
  • Coordinate with local emergency medical services;
  • Integrate the AED program with an overall emergency response plan for the worksite;
  • Ensure selection and technical consideration of the AEDs;
  • Secure ancillary medical equipment and supplies for the workplace AED program;
  • Assess the proper number and placement of AEDs and supplies;
  • Follow scheduled maintenance and replacement of AEDs and ancillary equipment;
  • Establish an AED quality assurance program; and
  • Conduct periodic review and verification of the workplace AED program

"Your ability to respond to sudden cardiac arrest depends largely on the early availability of an AED, having individuals on site who are trained in CPR and AED usage and the early activation of the emergency medical services system," says Relyea.

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