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Weakness in AED Statute Focuses on a Problem

Estiban Mejia suffered a fatal cardiac arrest while exercising at a 24 Hour Fitness gym. A California statute (H&S Code sec. 104113) requires that every “health studio” acquire an  automatic external defibrillator (AED) and train personnel to use the AED. Mejia’s estate (collectively, plaintiffs) sued the alleged owners and operators of the gym alleging among other claims, that the club failed to comply with the statute. The trial court entered a judgment in favor of the club. This is the appeal.

Facts

Mejia signed a membership agreement with 24 Hour in August 2014. The agreement included a section entitled “Release of Liability and Assumption of Risk.” The waiver includes the following language:

“Using the 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc. (24 Hour) facilities, services, or activities involves the risk of injury to you or your guest, whether you or someone else causes it. Specific risks vary from one activity to another and the risks range from minor injuries to major injuries, such as catastrophic injuries including death. In consideration of your acceptance of the benefits under this agreement, you understand and voluntarily accept this risk and agree that 24  Hour, its officers, directors, employees, volunteers, agents and independent contractors will not be liable for any injury, including, without limitation, personal, bodily, or mental injury, economic loss or any damage to you, your spouse, guests, unborn child, or relatives resulting from the negligence of 24 Hour or anyone on 24 Hour’s behalf or anyone else whether related to exercise or not. … You further agree to hold harmless, defend and indemnify 24 Hour from all liability, damages, defense costs, including attorneys’ fees, or from any other costs incurred in connection with claims for bodily injury, wrongful death or property damage brought by you, your guests, or minors, even if 24 Hour Fitness was negligent.” (Boldface and underlining omitted.)

Mejia arrived at the club at 11:14 p.m. and began his workout. Harris, an employee with first aid, CPR, and AED training, was the only employee on duty at the time. A few minutes later, he was informed of an issue with a client. He checked and found Mejia lying on his back. He immediately got an AED and called 911 and announced asking if a person with medical training was on hand. He prepared to use the AED and a nurse joined him and started CPR. They continued CPR until emergency personnel arrived six minutes later.

The relevant parts of the statute is: (a) Every health studio, as defined in subdivision (h), shall acquire, maintain, and train personnel in the use of, an automatic external defibrillator pursuant to this section.

24 Hour possessed an AED, they conducted monthly readiness inspections of the AEDs, and they did semiannual code blue drills.

There were numerous claims alleged against 24 Hour, but the one we are addressing is whether 24 Hour violated the California statute.

24 Hour’s Summary Judgment Motion

24 Hour moved for summary judgment or, in the alternative, summary adjudication. The motion identified eight “issues” on which 24 Hour was seeking summary adjudication, one of which was that 24 Hour had no duty perform CPR or use its AED. They argued that the statute requires:

(a) Every health studio, as defined in subdivision (h), shall acquire, maintain, and train personnel            in the use of, an automatic external defibrillator pursuant to this section.

They stated that they had an AED, they maintained the AED, and they had personnel trained in the use of the AED. But, Nowhere in the statute is there a requirement to use the AED.

Appellate Court Ruling

The court stated that plaintiffs argue that the court erred by determining 24 Hour had no common law duty to use the AED on Mejia. The liability release barred the negligence cause of action, so it is immaterial whether 24 Hour had such a duty.

Risk Management Take-Away

It is great that there are many statutes throughout the country requiring gyms and other sports facilities to provide AEDs. Unfortunately, many, if not most of the statutes do not require that the AED be used. This is not the first case in which a AED was not used and the victim died.

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