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Published on 13th March 2019

Treating a victim of Sudden Cardiac Arrest can be incredibly daunting – especially when you know that every second counts. As well as the panic of an emergency situation and making sure you follow the correct rescue procedure, you might also be worrying about legal claims if something goes wrong or you injure the patient. This may cause you to hesitate and waste valuable time.

However, it’s worth keeping in mind that instead of acting in the wrong way, the consequences of inaction are usually much more severe – and not just for the patient…

Duty to Rescue

Many countries in Europe, Latin America and Africa have extensive ‘duty to rescue’ civil laws which usually states that a rescuer must do what is reasonable in the situation. This doesn’t mean that you should do anything that would put your own life at risk, but if you don’t have any medical training then you should, at the very least, alert the emergency services.

In Germany, you can be fined or face a year in jail if you fail to act. In 2017 four people were found guilty after walking past an unconscious 83-year-old in the lobby of the bank. The victim later died in hospital and the four people were fined between €2,400 and €3,600 each.

Reverse liability for businesses

In the US – the home of civil claims – there have been numerous cases of businesses being sued for failing to provide access to AEDs.

In 1995 a man died from sudden cardiac arrest on a United Airlines plane. His widow successfully sued the airline for failing to have an AED in the onboard medical kit, something which was judged would have saved his life. Today, the Airline Passenger Safety Act requires that all commercial aircraft in the US must be equipped with specified life-saving equipment. This includes AEDs which the crew must be trained on how to use in an emergency.

There was also the case of James Becker, a fit and active 15-year-old who almost drowned when swimming in his local pool. There was no AED on-site and he suffered serious brain-damage while waiting for paramedics to arrive and provide emergency treatment. The parents sued the management of the pool for $40m, claiming that they failed to ‘timely recognise and respond’ by not having an AED. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount in 2012.

Possible claims

As a business, there are three main allegations that may be brought against you:

1.) Failure to purchase an AED
If your organisation is legally required to have an AED programme and you don’t implement it properly, you leave yourself wide open to claims.

2.) Failure to use an available AED

It’s important that your staff understand where your AED is kept and what to do in an emergency situation. This might also include appropriate training.

3.) Improper use of an available AED
If you use a reliable, well maintained AED, it’s highly unlikely that it will make a mistake. The unit will analyse and assess the victim’s heart rhythm and make all the decisions, guiding the user through the process step by step. It’s impossible to shock someone who isn’t having a cardiac arrest.

If you don’t have an AED on-site, you face a much higher risk of having a civil case brought against you.

Make sure you’re covered.

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