As reported in the Chicago Tribune, a Lockport Illinois woman is suing retail giant Amazon due to the January 23, 2017 death of her husband. Linda Becker claims her husband, Thomas Becker, died as a result of numerous delays during the attempted rescue of her husband. Furthermore, despite claiming to equip the facility with life-saving automated external defibrillators (AED units), the lawsuit claims that none were available and “that AED boxes located around the giant warehouse did not actually have the devices inside.”
When applied to patients in cardiac arrest, AEDs analyze the patient’s heart rhythm and provide an electric “shock” that helps “restart” their heart into a normal rhythm that properly pumps oxygen-rich blood to their brain and other vital organs. Public Access AEDs can be used by trained and untrained rescuers and when combined with high-quality CPR, offer the only effective treatment for victims in cardiac arrest. Given their ease-of-use and effectiveness, AEDs play a vital role in the “chain of survival” and are ubiquitously endorsed by the American Heart Association, American Red Cross, and emergency medical service organizations worldwide.
- The lawsuit is very new and the facts haven’t been litigated.
- The lawsuit reports many disturbing delays in responding to the victim, above and beyond the lack of an AED, including: (1) delay in calling 911 (due to an unnecessary request for the victim’s personal information, including his social security number), (2) delays by security guards in allowing EMS to enter the facility, and (3) delays in locating victim once granted access (“EMTs also had to walk through the mammoth facility rather than being given access to a rear loading dock adjacent to where Becker was in distress.”)
While there have been similar lawsuits brought against other large businesses in the past, such as the Verdugo lawsuit brought against Target, Becker’s lawsuit offers several differences:
- In the Verdugo case, Target did NOT have AEDs available; the plaintiffs claimed that “Target breached the duty of care that it owed to Verdugo, a business customer, by failing to have on hand within its department store an AED for use within its department store.”
- In the Amazon case, Amazon presumably DID have AEDs (though they weren’t brought to the scene according to the plaintiff), despite no known requirements of having to provide them.
- In the Verdugo case, paraphrasing, the plaintiffs claimed that Target should have known that AEDs should be available, as they save lives, they’re affordable, and AED response should be an expected part of first aid response.
- Verdugo was a customer of Target. Becker was an employee of Amazon.
- Both Target and Amazon sell AEDs online to their respective customers.
While the California Supreme Court sided with Target and didn’t impose a new legal duty requiring AEDs, it’s interesting to note that the party that voluntarily purchased and deployed life-saving technology at their facility is also being sued, in this case, partially because the AEDs weren’t brought to the victim.
One of the age-old challenges of deploying life-saving defibrillators to workplaces across the country is the concern that by buying and installing AEDs, and, thus, trying to do the right thing, new liability may be brought upon organizations that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.
What might this mean for the AED industry?
AED-related case law continues to validate the theory of the “AED risk spectrum” in that the riskiest type of AED programs, those which expose owners to the most liability, are poorly run AED programs. Not having an AED at all can still expose organizations to legal exposure (see Verdugo lawsuit above). And, those programs with the least exposure are well-run AED programs.
A partial list of poorly run AED programs may include:
- Signage indicating the presence of an AED that isn’t available
- AED units that have very low or zero battery life
- Expired AED parts, like batteries and electrode pads
- A general lack of awareness regarding the importance and use of an AED
To combat a potential sentiment that AEDs are unsafe and “risky” investments from a liability perspective, it’s incumbent on those in the AED industry to help organizations create and build safe, easy to administer, AED programs that address known challenges head-on. These programs must be broadcast and promoted throughout organizations to encourage awareness and engagement so that important observations, such as AEDs missing from cabinets or AEDs that aren’t functional, are addressed before emergencies surface. AED unit manufacturers also must do more to innovate by building technologies that help owners understand the “status” and “location” of their devices in a more timely manner.
We live in an age in which we can summon a car to take us from one location to another in seconds, but large AED program administrators don’t have knowledge of the operability of their life-saving programs? That’s incongruous and it’s time for a change.