Posted by SCAFoundation on 03/13/2014

A lawsuit filed recently in Syracuse, New York, claims that two non-working AEDs placed in a health club led to a member’s sudden cardiac death.  The incident happened on May 13, 2013 when the member, attorney Ronald Pelligra, experienced sudden cardiac arrest while working out at the Aspen Athletic Club. According to court papers (called a “complaint” in legal jargon) filed on behalf of Mr. Pelligra’s widow, the club had two AEDs but neither worked when employees retrieved and tried to use them. One AED apparently had no battery and the other had a dead battery.  As a result, according to the lawsuit, Mr. Pelligra died.

The lawsuit names several defendants including Aspen Health Club (the owner/operator of the club and owner of the two AEDs); Zee Medical (the seller of one of the AEDs, a ZOLL AED Plus); and Hewlett Packard, Agilent Technologies, and Philips Healthcare (as possible manufacturers and distributors of the other AED, an early model Heartstream device). Industry historians will recall that Heartstream was founded in 1992, acquired by HP in 1997, then went to Agilent in 1999, and finally to Philips in 2001. Because the plaintiff appears to not yet know when the Heartstream device was manufactured or sold, all three manufacturers are named.

The complaint raises a long list of misconduct claims against each defendant. It claims Aspen failed to have functioning AEDs on site as required under New York law; failed to properly maintain and test its AEDs; failed to have proper equipment maintenance and testing procedures in place; failed to properly train club staff in the use, maintenance, and testing of AEDs; among other related failures. The lawsuit alleges Zee sold the ZOLL AED Plus to Aspen, delivered it without a battery, and failed to send a representative to Aspen to install the battery and properly prepare the AED to be placed in service. Finally, the complaint alleges a number of product liability and breach of warranty claims against Zee, ZOLL, Philips, Agilent, and HP.  Keep in mind these are just allegations at the point and the plaintiff still has the burden of proving her case.

As part of the complaint, the plaintiff’s lawyers have specifically alleged that Aspen failed to comply with certain provisions of New York’s AED laws.  he most obvious is the requirement that AED owners “cause the automated external defibrillator to be maintained and tested according to applicable standards of the manufacturer and any appropriate government agency.” Another more tangential provision the plaintiff raised is Aspen’s alleged failure to “notify the regional council of the existence, location and type of any automated external defibrillator it possesses.”   New York’s AED Good Samaritan immunity law (to the extent it applies) isn’t conditioned on fulfilling this requirement, and the failure to notify had nothing to do with the outcome of this incident, so it’s not clear why it is raised. This case again highlights how including these kinds of requirements in AED laws creates more risk for AED owners with no associated public health benefits.

There are a variety of reasons why AED programs fail. Equipment maintenance is certainly one of those reasons. This potential point-of-failure is one that can be easily prevented with the right tools and a trusted AED program services partner. A trusted partner can also help reduce risks by ensuring proper AED law compliance.

The case is early in the litigation process and the parties are just beginning the process of exchanging information. It will likely be some time before it reaches the finish line.

By Richard Lazar, Readiness Systems, Member, SCA Foundation Advisory Council