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Georgia court finds no requirement for an employee to intervene when higher trained first aid providers are present.

Sixteen-year-old collapsed at the defendant YMCA. A sheriff deputy and EMT provided CPR. Court held that the congenital heart disease had no causal connection to the Y’s negligence if there was any. Court also held the Y was not negligent because the employees did nothing, because higher trained medical personnel were already attending to the victim.

Goins et al. v. The Family Y et al. 326 Ga. App. 522; 757 S.E.2d 146; 2014 Ga. App. LEXIS 216; 2014 Fulton County D. Rep. 909

State: Georgia, Court of Appeals

Plaintiff: James and Jennifer Goins

Defendant: The Family YMCA

Plaintiff Claims: negligence and fraud

Defendant Defenses: No duty and proximate causation

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 2014

The plaintiffs are the parents of a sixteen-year-old who died walking on a treadmill at the defendant Family Y (YMCA). It was determined the deceased died from congenital heart disease.

The plaintiff’s brought their son to the YMCA to get ready for baseball season and to lose some weight. They chose the Y because it was a safe and positive environment with adequate well trained employees “on hand at all times and that these employees would have access to life-saving equipment and would know how to use it.”

(This is an example of looking at the website and brochure post-accident and looking for information or is this why they picked the Y?)

An employee of the Y saw the deceased fall and immediately called 911. She did not go to the deceased because she said there was a sheriff’s deputy who was a first responder and had another first aid training attending to the deceased. Soon thereafter, an EMT also assisted the deceased.

The parents, plaintiff’s, sued the defendant because their son:

…was under the “personal care” of a Y employee who had no CPR or first aid training, in spite of representations made by the fitness center. The Goins also claimed that the Y employees stood around and did nothing after Brant collapsed. The complaint alleged that the AED or defibrillator was locked away and not available in case of emergency. There was also a fraud count in which the Goins contended that the Y made misrepresentations to them that led them to believe that the Y was a “safe and positive” environment for their son.

The trial court dismissed their claims, and the plaintiff’s appealed.

Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.

The first issue was whether there was a duty to render first aid and whether the representations that the Y misled the parents. The court first outlined the requirements to prove negligence in Georgia.

The essential elements of a negligence claim are the existence of a legal duty; breach of that duty; a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the plaintiff’s injury; and damages. Thus, the threshold issue in a negligence action is whether and to what extent the defendant owes a legal duty to the plaintiff. This issue is a question of law.

The plaintiffs argued there was a special relationship between themselves and the Y because the Y assumed a special duty to supervise minor children. The appellate court shot down that argument with one sentence. “Brant Goins was 16 years of age and the only duty undertaken by the Y was to provide him with a personal trainer to help him lose weight. It is undisputed that this is what occurred.”

The second issue on appeal was the negligence claim. As stated above to prove negligence, there must be a connection between the injury and the breach of the duty. Here the duty was alleged to be a lack of training, as advertised by the Y., However, the court could not find a connection. CPR would not have saved the deceased’s life and the people attempting to do so were better trained then the employees. “…the [plaintiff’s] cannot show a causal connection between Mason’s or any other employee’s lack of CPR training and Brant Goins’ death.” A casual connection is less than the proximate causation required to prove negligence.

It is undisputed that there was an emergency medical technician, and a deputy sheriff trained as a first-responder present at the time of Brant’s collapse. There would have been no reason for a Y employee to interfere with the care being given by the two qualified first responders.

The final issue was the fraud claim. The fraud claim was based on the allegations that the Y promised the plaintiff’s that the YMCA was a safe and positive environment and that there would be adequate and well-trained employees, and the employees would have access to life-saving equipment.

There was not argument that this did not occur. The plaintiff’s then tried to tie together the fact these things did not occur and that because their son had died, proving negligence.  (The absence of facts does not prove a point in most cases and those facts that exist must link to each other in a legal way.) However, the court did not find this to be proved either.

Even assuming that the Goins could establish the other elements of their fraud claim, they can show no damage as the result of this claimed fraud. The EMT and the deputy were clearly the most highly trained people present in administering CPR. Neither called for a defibrillator and both testified that a defibrillator, would not be used on someone with a pulse who was still breathing.

Not brought up in the decision on this argument was proximate causation. There was no connection between the facts that if the Y had not done any of the issues pled in the fraud that the misrepresentation had anything to do with the death of their son.

The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision.

So Now What?

First, it is great to have a court require a special relationship or acceptance of a duty that can be proved, not just argued and based on trying to tie loose facts together. The Y’s acceptance of the deceased minor to provide a trainer came with no other requirements, and the Y did nothing to create additional duties which it could be held too.

This is critical that in bringing in business, you don’t make promises that either you can’t complete or that may come back to haunt you.

Second, although specifically identified, the issue of higher medical care prevailed. I’ve never seen this issue argued in a case, that the person with the higher medical care, once they step in, are in charge and owes any duty. We are all taught this issue in first aid classes, but courts have never identified it. Here the court uses the argument and supports it.

Too often we start any defense of a lawsuit by lining up the defenses. All too often in the outdoor recreation community, we need to see if (1) we did anything wrong and (2) is there a connection with what was done incorrectly or not done and the injury. That is, was a duty breached and was there a proximate connection between the breach and the injury.

Amazing how a well-argued decision can be so short.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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By Recreation Law       Rec-law@recreation-law.com              James H. Moss

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