Before long, regulations will require AEDs in all fitness facilities. So, installing one now is a good move.
It is time for fitness centers to enter the 21st century and have an onsite Automated External Defibrillator (AED). Legally, fitness centers no longer have a choice in many states. Not only have these states passed legislation requiring fitness facilities to purchase AEDs and train their staff, but more national professional organizations are taking a stand favoring their use. The day is not far when AEDs will be the required standard of care for fitness centers nationwide.
The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association issued a Joint Position Statement endorsing the availability of AEDs in health and fitness clubs. Other organizations supporting state legislation to require AED use in fitness centers include the YMCA of the USA and the American Council on Exercise.
At least 10 states have passed legislation requiring AEDs in fitness centers. Additionally, at least that many more have attempted to pass the legislation, and will probably continue until it is passed. The laws differ from state to state, but they generally require facilities to purchase an AED, maintain the unit and train staff regarding its use. Most also include liability protection for the fitness center and its employees. Failure to include such protection has been a major factor in the failure of the legislation in other states.
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States Requiring or Considering Requiring AEDs
The following table provides information on AED legislation for fitness centers. There will likely be more in the pipeline by the time this column is published.
Standard of care
In states with legislation requiring AEDs, their use becomes the required standard of ordinary care in fitness centers. To date, most lawsuits against facilities for failure to have and use an AED in the case of sudden cardiac arrest have been determined in favor of the defendant club. However, as more decisions are made in favor of plaintiffs, the use of AEDs will become the standard of care in those states.
In a 2006 case in Florida (Mayer vs. L.A. Fitness International LLC), the client suffered a fatal cardiac arrest during a workout. The facility had no AED, did not administer CPR and had no emergency plan. The court awarded more than $600,000 to the family. At least two cases have resulted in huge out-of-court settlements. In Chai vs. Sports & Fitness Clubs of America Inc., the settlement was for $2,250,000, and, in a more recent case (Fruh vs. Wellbridge Club Management Inc.), the defendant agreed to pay the plaintiffs $1,800,000.
Many fitness centers still have a choice about having an AED: You can continue to skate on thin ice, hoping it will not break, or, you can get ahead of the standard and reduce your liability by acquiring an AED and training your staff in its use. There are at least four reasons to get an AED: 1) It will significantly reduce your liability; 2) It will reduce the chance of bad publicity for your fitness center; 3) It will demonstrate your concern for the safety of your members and, most important; 4) It may save the life of one of your members. It is the health business we are in, isn’t it?
By Doyice J. Cotten
originally published March 2008, Fitness Management Magazine
Dr. Doyice J. Cotten is professor emeritus in sport management at Georgia Southern University, and has a consulting business, Sport Risk Consulting. He is the coauthor of Waivers and Releases of Liability (6th ed.), which is a complete and up-to-date source of 1) state waiver laws, 2) rulings regarding waivers for adults and minors, 3) guidelines on how to write waivers (including examples) and 4) a full explanation (and examples) of a Participant Agreement. The book is available here.