The family of the individual that died will likely claim that the association was negligent for not properly maintaining the device that could have saved their life, and they would probably be right.
If the association gets one AED, someone will likely claim that the association was negligent as it should have had more than one or located it in what they believe was a better location to better serve the community.
As the old saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished.
The February 24, 2010 edition of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) carried a story entitled "Why Hotels Resist Having Defibrillators.”
That article pointed out that the hotel industry has likewise taken the position that the risk of being sued as a result of having an AED on the premises outweighs the lifesaving benefits to the public of putting them there.
No one can question the fact that the number of civil lawsuits has and continues to grow. Community associations, and most businesses in general, are reluctant to voluntarily take any action, even for the public good, which could subject them to a lawsuit.
Quick access to an AED can save lives, and as a result, laws mandating their installation have become more common.
AEDs are presently required by federal law on commercial aircraft and cruise ships. Many states (including California) require AEDs in health clubs and gyms (this does not include the gym at a California community association), dental offices, schools, athletic events and public access facilities where large numbers of people gather such as airports and transit stations.
As the number of AEDs and the lives saved due to their presence increase, the more it can be argued that the absence of an AED falls below the reasonable standard of care in the community and exposes the owners and/or operators to negligence litigation. But the law is not yet there.
There is the argument that having an AED is the right thing to do for the community association notwithstanding the potential for a lawsuit.
The problem is that while it's reasonable to expect the association that places an AED in the common area maintain it properly, just as it would a fire extinguisher or a smoke alarm, the reality is that for many community associations, this is just too big a burden, as they do not have any staff or employees that will ensure that the AED is always in working order.
In the case of a sudden cardiac arrest, experts say that the chances of survival are as high as 70% if a defibrillator is utilized within the first 5 minutes and around 5% after 10 minutes.
For many community associations, where to locate and install the AED may be as problematic as ensuring that it is properly maintained and operating when needed.
California's Good Samaritan statute has been held to protect those rendering emergency medical care at the scene of a medical emergency; it does not limit the liability of the association owner of the AED.
California law does afford specific protection to those utilizing AEDs. Individuals who operate an AED in an emergency situation are protected from liability under Civil Code §1714.21(b).
The maintenance and readiness checks can be accomplished by simply observing the AED and ensuring a blinking green light is present, indicating it is “ready”.
But for many community associations, especially those without any employees or staff, there is no guarantee that this monitoring will happen. While training at least one employee may seem reasonable and easily accomplished, even for those associations with employees, there is a concern that it just won’t be done.