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Retailers could be a heartbeat away from AED requirement

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was asked to decide whether Target Corp. has a legal obligation to maintain automated external defibrillators in its stores. The question came out of a lawsuit filed by the family of a woman who died at a Target store in California during 2008. The court sent the case to the state's Supreme Court, noting that state law was not clear on the matter. The state court found for the retailer -- sort of.

An AED is an easy-to-use device that checks a person's heart rhythm and, if necessary, delivers an electric shock to restore a normal rhythm. Research has shown that AEDs save lives: Someone with little training can retrieve and use the device in less time than it takes an ambulance to arrive. It is important to note that the device augments rather than replaces emergency services.

Many states, including California and New York, require public institutions and buildings to have AEDs. Only Oregon requires retail stores to have AEDs on hand.

The plaintiffs claimed the woman would have had a better chance of survival if the store had had an AED available. While the state may not have a law specifically requiring large retail stores to have AEDs, there are requirements regarding first-aid.

Target and its supporters argued that requiring AEDs would be the thin end of the wedge for retailers' liability in medical crises. If the AED failed to revive the customer, or if store personnel could not locate the AED quickly, for example, plaintiffs could pile on allegations of negligence. Target also argued that requiring AEDs in large retail stores -- both sides agreed that small stores could not bear the financial burden of having AEDs on site -- would open the door to demands for additional medical services for customers.

An attorney affiliated with the Pacific Legal Foundation summed up the decision succinctly: The decision, she said, "property recognizes that businesses cannot be responsible for every medical emergency that happens on their premises."

She may be repeating that message to the state legislature, though. The court did not say that retailers would never have to have AEDs on site. Rather, the court said the issue is a matter for state legislators.

Retailers are not off the hook quite yet.

Source: Mercury News, "Defibrillators in California: Court finds big retailers not required to have devices on site," Howard Mintz, June 23, 2014

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