Only two percent of people who suffer sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) outside hospitals are treated with an automated external defibrillator (AED) by a bystander.(1) Sometimes lay bystanders hesitate to act because they are concerned about liability risks, particularly if they have not been trained in the use of the device. Concerns can be heightened when signage warns “For trained personnel only.”
For similar reasons, businesses often hesitate to establish AED programs, even though they recognize that AEDs save lives. When businesses have locations in multiple states with different laws, the issue becomes even more complex.
In an effort to improve rates of bystander intervention and encourage businesses to develop emergency medical response plans that include AED placement, Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) has introduced and Rep. Gerry Connolley (D-VA) has co-sponsored HR 3511, the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act of 2011. The bill would amend the Public Health Service Act to provide liability protection to users and acquirers of AEDs. If passed, the legislation would provide a nationally uniform baseline of protection from civil liability and preempt the patchwork of state laws regarding liability protection. Could this be a game changer?
The legislation would protect not only laypersons acting in good faith, but also businesses that develop AED programs. Liability would be applicable regardless of whether the user was trained, whether there is cautionary signage, and whether the AED is registered with any government entity. It does not, however, provide immunity to healthcare professionals who use AEDs within the scope of employment or if the AED is located in a hospital or clinic. The bill does not discourage training, but it does not require users be trained to be immune from liability.
The legislation is supported by a special report, “Shock and Law,” by Jonathan Reiner, MD, Allen Solomon MD, and Richard Katz, MD, of George Washington University published in Circulation in September (attached). The authors state: “Uncertainty regarding liability exposure is the unintended consequence of the current menagerie of state laws governing AED deployment and liability protection. The result is a virtual speed brake on the dissemination of this now mature technology...Congress has the Constitutional authority to remedy this problem with the passage of a single law that could unify and simplify the disparate state AED provisions.”
According to Dr. Reiner, “This bipartisan legislation creates a baseline of Good Samaritan protection for users and acquirers of AEDs. It is not only pro-life, it is also pro-business. It’s important for U.S. businesses to feel confident they can protect employees and customers from sudden cardiac arrest, knowing that the law protects them from liability. What’s more, and does not force businesses to do anything they are not already motivated to do and it doesn’t cost taxpayers a thing.”
Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation Advisory Board Member Andrew Roszak, JD, MPA, EMT-P, an attorney nationally recognized as an AED litigation expert, praised the introduction of HR3511, stating that "under the current patchwork of AED case law, liability protection is not a given. Clarifying the application of Good Samaritan and AED-specific liability protections will encourage the adoption of AED programs and reduce the fear of liability. Laws need to be in place that encourage AED use and protect AED users from liability. After all, it would defeat the purpose of locating AEDs in the community if the community itself was afraid of using the devices because of liability concerns."
The Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation strongly supports HR 3511. They believe that if passed, this legislation could be a major breakthrough in the quest to save lives threatened by Sudden Cardiac Arrest. As an organization whose mission it is to raise awareness and give "ordinary" people the power to save a life, they urge survivors and other advocates to contact their representatives in Congress, asking them to co-sponsor this important lifesaving measure.
(1) Lloyd-Jones et al. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2010 Update: A Report from the American Heart Association. DOI: 10.1161/CirculationAHA.109.192667.