The Cost of Life
Updated: Feb 8
This is how 15-year-old Abel Limones was described after collapsing during his soccer game. His coach yelled for an AED which was on the other side of the field—which was never brought to the scene. Abel was defibrillated by first responders 23 minutes after his initial collapse. The Limones family is suing the school district for upwards of $10 million.
In under 10 minutes, 15-year-old James Becker became severely disabled after the Baltimore based, Woodcroft Swim Club, failed to “timely recognize and respond” to Becker’s cardiac arrest by using an AED. The Becker family sued the club and its management for $40 million.
It’s too bad that cases like these are even relevant because buying and using an AED can save lives for a minimal cost.
What could have been an investment of less than $1,500 became a potential liability in the tens of millions of dollars.
Although it is difficult to look at the value of life in dollar terms, the reality is that this is the manner in which the law compensates victims of negligence. Although money cannot restore a person's health, it can help restore a person’s dignity and pay for the medical cost associated with caring for a brain-damaged individual, particularly such a young one. Obviously, no amount of money can compensate the victim for the loss they have experienced, but the law provides for the amount of compensation necessary to restore the economic loss sustained, in addition to damages for the pain and suffering.
While jury awards in the tens of millions of dollars may seem at first blush to be exorbitant, severely brain-damaged victims, particularly young ones, face a lifetime of loss of earnings as well as astronomical expenses for round-the-clock medical care and attention, medications, medical supplies, medical monitoring, medical devices, nursing services, home modifications, transportation services, etc. Furthermore, these victims will require custodial care and housing once their parents or other older relatives have passed on.
Families in the Limones and Becker cases were permitted to file litigation because the facts of their respective cases fulfilled the legal requirements to establish a personal injury claim which includes the following:
There was a duty to protect the health and safety of the injured individuals
There was a breach of that duty by failing to timely deploy an automated external defibrillator
That breach of duty caused injury to the plaintiffs
The plaintiffs sustained legally recognized damages
A court’s valuation of an individual’s life varies from state to state, but the damages in a personal injury claim are generally calculated by determining earning capacity, whether there are people legally entitled to the injured persons work, whether the injured person had children or has married; whether there were costs incurred and whether costs will be incurred in the future in order to properly provide for the injured person. A separate award may be made for non-economic losses, commonly known as “pain and suffering,” and this award, in and of itself, can be very large depending on the nature of the injury sustained by the victim.
Research has reported that 37% of people cited legal concerns as reasons not to obtain an AED, and 51% cited legal concerns as reasons to obtain an AED. “The fact of the matter is that the federal government, and each and every state government in this country, has instituted Good Samaritan Legislation which encourages and protects users of AEDs. An individual or an institution in only entitled to immunity from liability if the AED is actually used in accordance with state law,” says practicing attorney and cardiac arrest survivor Steven B. Tannenbaum.
“Laws have been enacted across the country mandating the presence of AEDs in many public locations, particularly in our schools. They are placed there, by law, in order to protect our students during school hours and school activities.” Mr. Tannenbaum explained that Florida’s highest court, in the Limones vs. School District of Lee Country, et al decision “held that schools can incur liability if a trial jury finds that school employees breached the duty of reasonable care owed to students by failing to use state-mandated AEDs.”
Both institutions held a duty of care to use an AED, on-site, on these young boys, but they didn’t. Members of such institutions must know to use an AED in emergency situations. Places like the Woodcroft swim club and Abel’s high school were supposed to have used an AED on site. Woodcroft didn’t have one which was reason enough to file a claim, and Abel’s high school had one and it wasn’t used.
The purpose of explaining how and why courts will compensate injury victims is to educate the public on the enormous costs that can be avoided, not to mention serious life-altering injuries, by the exercise of reasonable care.
The lesson to be learned is that AEDs must be placed and deployed pursuant to a carefully drafted and practiced Cardiac Emergency Response Plan. In order to avoid the causation of catastrophic injuries and money damages, simply use an AED.
Businesses Should Consider the Following:
1. Reasons to Purchase an AED
If an individual or a business purchases an AED, it is most likely that if the AED is used, the life of the purchaser or the life of an employee of the business will be the one that is saved. Additionally, if the life of a business patron is saved on the business' property, the public will recognize that the business cared for the safety of its customers.
An individual or a business will only receive Good Samaritan protection from liability if the AED is deployed in accordance with state law. Good Samaritan protection does not exist if there is a failure to use an AED.
2. Proper Ownership of an AED Requires a Cardiac Emergency Response Plan
In order for an AED to be properly deployed, it must be maintained and kept in a proper and visible location and the batteries and pads must be replaced as per schedule. Additionally, a well-practiced Cardiac Emergency Response Plan will ensure that a sudden cardiac arrest is timely recognized so that the AED can be used within an appropriate period of time.
3. AEDs are Easy to use and Unlikely to Cause Damage
The proper use of an AED merely requires that the rescuer open or turn on the device and follow its audible instructions. The unit itself will analyze the victim's condition, determine if the victim's heart is in a shockable rhythm and if so, it will allow a shock to be delivered to the victim. The rescuer does not need to make any decisions, so it is extraordinarily unlikely that any harm can be caused by the rescuer.
Sudden cardiac arrest is truly a life-or-death situation and we can save untold thousands upon thousands of lives with the proper placement and deployment of AEDs. Anyone can save a life!