With more than 700 Americans dying of cardiac arrest each day, a divided federal appeals court wants the California Supreme Court to decide whether state law requires businesses to keep a defibrillator on hand, a device that might have saved the life of a 49-year-old woman who collapsed at a Target store.
A panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco voted 2-1 Tuesday to ask the state's high court to decide whether a commercial property owner's legal duty to provide emergency medical aid requires the availability of a defibrillator.
The dissenting judge, Harry Pregerson, said he believes state law requires a store to meet the "insignificant burden" of owning a defibrillator, which costs $1,200, and training one or more employees in its use.
The case arose from the death of Mary Ann Verdugo, who suffered cardiac arrest while shopping in a Target store in Pico Rivera (Los Angeles County) in August 2008. She had died by the time county Fire Department paramedics reached the store.
A suit by Verdugo's mother and brother accused Target of negligently contributing to her death by failing to stock an emergency defibrillator, a product the store sells on its website.
A jolt from a defibrillator could save the lives of 30 percent of those who suffer sudden cardiac arrest, who otherwise have little chance of survival, a 2000 government report said. Nearly 300,000 Americans suffer cardiac arrest each year and only 8 percent survive, the court said.
A federal judge dismissed the suit, saying California law does not require a store to keep a defibrillator available. In reviewing the relatives' appeal, the Ninth Circuit panel said it needed guidance from the state Supreme Court, because California courts have issued varying decisions on how far a business must go to protect its patrons.
For example, Judges Marsha Berzon and Susan Graber noted, state courts have rejected claims that a restaurant should have done more than call emergency services when a customer started choking. But another court said a bar did not do enough when it merely called police after a fight broke out.
SOURCE: Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle