State AED laws may create liability; make sure you understand what your state laws say. Florida, an AED law affecting high schools created liability for the HS.Posted: December 19, 2016
A Florida statute requiring schools to acquire and train all employees on the use of AED’s, created liability when the AED was not used.
State: Florida, Supreme Court of Florida
Plaintiff: Abel Limones, Sr., et al
Defendant: School District of Lee County et al.
Plaintiff Claims: Common Law negligence and breach of a duty required by statute, Florida Statute 1006.165
Defendant Defenses: No duty and Immune under 1006.165 and 768.1325
Holding: for the Plaintiff
The deceased was a 15-year-old boy who played on a high school soccer team. While playing a high school soccer game he collapsed. His coach ran onto the field and started CPR and was assisted by two nurses who were sitting in the stands.
Allegedly, the coach asked several times for an AED (Automatic External Defibrillator). An AED was located in a storage are at the end of the field. However, no one ever retrieved the AED.
Ten minutes later, the fire department arrived and attempted to revive the student with their AED. That did not work. Twenty-six minutes later, an ambulance arrived and with the application of the ambulance AED and the application of drugs, EMS was able to restore the student’s heart rate.
The plaintiff’s expert witness testified that the 26 minutes without the use of the AED, not having a heartbeat, deprived the student of oxygen, which caused brain damage. The student was left in a persistent vegetative state.
The trial court granted the defendants motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed and the Florida Appellate Court upheld the dismal by the trial court. The Florida Supreme Court then heard the appeal and issued this decision.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The Supreme Court of Florida first looked at basic negligence claims pursuant to Florida’s law. Florida’s law applies the same four steps to prove negligence as most other states.
We have long held that to succeed on a claim of negligence, a plaintiff must establish the four elements of duty, breach, proximate causation, and damages. Of these elements, only the existence of a duty is a legal question because duty is the standard to which the jury compares the conduct of the defendant.
A legal question is one that must be answered by the courts. So whether or not a duty existed, in proving negligence, is first reviewed by the trial judge. Factual questions are reviewed by the finder of fact, most commonly called the jury. Looking at the issue of duty, the court found under Florida Law, there were four sources of duty.
Florida law recognizes the following four sources of duty: (1) statutes or regulations; (2) common law interpretations of those statutes or regulations; (3) other sources in the common law; and (4) the general facts of the case.
Rarely do courts define how duties are created. Consequently, reviewing how a duty is created is interesting. The last way, general facts of the case, are how most duties are determined. The plaintiff argues there is a duty because of how others act or fail to act or based on the testimony from expert witnesses. Alternatively, an organization or trade association has published a list of the standards of care, which are then used to prove the duty failed.
The court then must examine if the minimum requirements for a duty have been met.
As in this case, when the source of the duty falls within the first three sources, the factual inquiry necessary to establish a duty is limited. The court must simply determine whether a statute, regulation, or the common law imposes a duty of care upon the defendant. The judicial determination of the existence of a duty is a minimal threshold that merely opens the courthouse doors.
In this case, the parties were relying on a statute; the Florida Statute that put AED’s in schools and required all school employees to be trained on their use, 768.1325. Once the court determines that a duty existed, then the jury must decide all other issues of the case.
Once a court has concluded that a duty exists, Florida law neither requires nor allows the court to further expand its consideration into how a reasonably prudent person would or should act under the circumstances as a matter of law. We have clearly stated that the remaining elements of negligence–breach, proximate causation, and damages–are to be resolved by the fact-finder.
The court then looked into the duty of schools with regard to students. A special relationship exists between a student (and their parents) and schools. A special relationship then takes the duty out from limited if any duty at all to a specific duty of care. Here that relationship creates a duty upon the school to act as a reasonable man would.
As a general principle, a party does not have a duty to take affirmative action to protect or aid another unless a special relationship exists which creates such a duty. When such a relationship exists, the law requires the party to act with reasonable care toward the person in need of protection or aid. As the Second District acknowledged below, Florida courts have recognized a special relationship between schools and their students based upon the fact that a school functions at least partially in the place of parents during the school day and school-sponsored activities.
The duty thus created or established requires a school to reasonably supervise students.
This special relationship requires a school to reasonably supervise its students during all activities that are subject to the control of the school, even if the activities occur beyond the boundaries of the school or involve adult students.
It should be noted, however, when referring to “school” in this manner; the courts are talking about public schools and students under the age of 18. Colleges have very different duties, especially outside of the classroom or off campus.
That supervision duty schools have, has five sub-elements or additional duties when dealing with student athletes.
Lower courts in Florida have recognized that the duty of supervision creates the following specific duties owed to student athletes: (1) schools must adequately instruct student athletes; (2) schools must provide proper equipment; (3) schools must reasonably match participants; (4) schools must adequately supervise athletic events; and (5) schools must take appropriate measures after a student is injured to prevent aggravation of the injury.
Here, several of the specific duties obviously could be applied to the case. Consequently, the court found the school owed a duty to the deceased.
Having determined the duty owed by the school to the deceased the court held that the school had a duty to the deceased that was breached. The use of an AED, required at the school by statute, was a reasonable duty owed to the deceased.
Therefore, we conclude that Respondent owed Abel a duty of supervision and to act with reasonable care under the circumstances; specifically, Respondent owed Abel a duty to take appropriate post-injury efforts to avoid or mitigate further aggravation of his injury. “Reasonable care under the circumstances” is a standard that may fluctuate with time, the student’s age and activity, the extent of the injury, the available responder(s), and other facts. Advancements with technology and equipment available today, such as a portable AED, to treat an injury were most probably unavailable twenty years ago, and may be obsolete twenty years from now.
The plaintiffs also argued there were additional duties owed based on the Florida School AED statute. However, the court declined to review this issue. Meaning, it is undecided and could go either way in the future.
The defendant then argued they were immune from suit based on the Florida AED Good Samaritan Act. The court then looked at the immunity statute set forth in the Florida School AED Statute. The Statute required schools to have AED’s and have to train all employees in the use of the AED. The court found that employees and volunteers could be covered under the Florida AED Good Samaritan Act. If they used the AED’s they would be immune from suit.
The court in reading the Florida AED Good Samaritan Act found two different groups of people were created by the act. However, only one was protected by the act and immune from suit. Those who use or attempt to use an AED are immune. Those that only acquire the AED, are not immune because they did not attempt to use the AED.
Users are clearly “immune from civil liability for any harm resulting from the use or attempted use” of an AED. § 768.1325(3), Fla. Stat. Additionally, acquirers are immune from “such liability,” meaning the “liability for any harm resulting from the use or attempted use” referenced in the prior sentence. Thus, acquirers are not immune due to the mere fact that they have purchased and made available an AED which has not been used; rather, they are entitled to immunity from the harm that may result only when an AED is actually used or attempted to be used.
That immunity only applied to the use of the AED. Here there was no use of the AED, so the statute did not provide any immunity.
It is undisputed that no actual or attempted use of an AED occurred in this case until emergency responders arrived. Therefore, we hold that Respondent is not entitled to immunity under section 768.1325 and such section has absolutely no application here.
The court summarized its analysis.
We hold that Respondent owed a common law duty to supervise Abel, and that once injured, Respondent owed a duty to take reasonable measures and come to his aid to prevent aggravation of his injury. It is a matter for the jury to determine under the evidence whether Respondent’s actions breached that duty and resulted in the damage that Abel suffered. We further hold Respondent is not entitled to immunity from suit under section 768.1325, Florida Statutes.
So Now What?
So in Florida, a statute that requires someone, such as a school to have AED’s then requires the school to use the AED’s and if they do not, they breach the common law duty of care to their students.
AED laws are going to become a carnival ride in attempting to understand and use them without creating liability or remaining immune from suit. You probably not only want to be on top of the law that is being passed in your state; you should probably go down and testify so the legislature in an attempt to save a life does not sink your business.
It is sad when a young man dies, especially, if he could have been saved. That issue is probably going to trial.
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