The April 16 commentary “AED lawsuit threatens youth sports with liability overload” (Other Views) stated that brain damage or death as a result of suffering a cardiac arrhythmia while playing high school sports “… does not occur often” and leaves the reader with the impression that somehow the deployment of life-saving automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in public school threatens sports opportunities for young people.
The American Heart Association’s most recent estimate on this topic concludes that the occurrence of these events in children is 9,500 per year, causing about 8,800 deaths. The truly heartbreaking fact is that many disabilities and deaths as a result of sudden cardiac arrest are preventable.
Tragically, on Nov. 13, 2008, Abel Limones, a soccer player at East County High School in Lee County, suffered cardiac arrest during a game. CPR was administered by his coach, but the school’s AED, which was on a golf cart near the soccer field’s end zone, was never used. Abel was not resuscitated until 23 minutes later, after being treated with an AED by Emergency Medical Services.
Although he was saved, Abel sustained severe brain injury that left him in a vegetative state due to the failure of school personnel to retrieve and use the school’s AED, which was required to be there by state law.
In a lawsuit brought by Abel’s parents, an appellate court ruled that “under the current state of the law, the School Board had no common law duty to make available, diagnose the need for, or use an AED on Abel.” The court further held that the statute which mandated the presence of the AED did not set forth requirements regarding the school’s use of the AED that it was required to maintain and that Florida’s Good Samaritan Act and Cardiac Arrest Survival Act do not create a legal duty to render aid through the use of an AED.
The Florida Supreme Court is reviewing this decision, in which the appellate court, unfortunately, missed an opportunity to establish public policy requiring the use of AEDs in locations, specifically in public schools, where the state Legislature has mandated their presence.
Section 1006.165, Florida Statutes (2008) requires the presence of an operational AED in public schools that are part of the Florida High School Athletic Association and mandates that each school must ensure that employees or volunteers who are reasonably expected to use the device obtain appropriate training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and to demonstrate proficiency in the use of an AED.
It is the position of Parent Heart Watch, the national voice dedicated to protecting youths from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and preventable sudden cardiac death, that the enactment of laws requiring the presence of AEDs implies the intent of the Legislature to create a duty to use those AEDs. The court can establish an environment that will save lives, young and old.
Parent Heart Watch encourages the Florida Supreme Court, as well as other courts faced with this issue, to require the usage of AEDs where the law mandates their presence. Under existing federal and state law, any such responder will be immune from liability pursuant to existing Good Samaritan laws. School districts will be protected from liability if they maintain AEDs, as mandated by law, and so will school personnel who use the devices on school property.
The availability of AEDs in schools, coupled with a written and well-practiced emergency action plan, will ensure the timely and proper execution of the cardiac chain of survival — lives saved! Parents should demand this protection for their children. The price of an AED ranges from $1,100 to $1,500 — a small price to pay for saving the life of a child. To learn more about SCA in youths, visit parentheartwatch.org.
Martha Lopez-Anderson is chairwoman of the board of directors of Parent Heart Watch.