Where Would You Expect to Find AEDs?
Do large retail locations typically have an AED on hand for a sudden cardiac arrest emergency? You may be surprised at the answer.
Does your chain grocery store have an AED? How about the large department store you frequent? The clothing store in your neighborhood which always has great sales and is always busy? The big box electronics store on the corner? You probably don’t know. Would you expect them to? You probably would. But the fact of the matter is most retail stores do NOT equip their locations with AEDs. Despite the fact large volumes of customers, from all walks of life, pass through their doors every day, most just don’t understand the seriousness of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), the limited time there is to save someone’s life, and the only effective treatment for SCA
Back in 2008, a woman died of sudden cardiac arrest at a Target store in California. Her family sued the store, claiming it had a duty to provide this life-saving technology to its customers. Target disagreed. In 2014 the judge ruled in favor of Target, claiming there was no legal obligation by the store to have AEDs available at its locations in California. The judge was correct. Large retail stores are not required to have AEDs in most states (there are a few states that require them by law based on the square footage of the building and the average number of patrons/employees who are present on a daily basis).
Where does a store’s duty of care to its customers begin and end? OSHA has regulations in place to protect workers and customers from unsafe conditions (limits on how high they can stack goods, when and where forklifts may be used and the procedures involved, fire extinguisher placement, etc.), and they do recommend AEDs, but do not require them. It most likely stems from the idea there are definite health and well-being risks for all people (toppling goods, fire), and potential risks for a limited number of people (sudden cardiac arrest, anaphylactic shock, diabetic shock or coma). So if you open yourself up to providing treatment for one potential risk (an AED for sudden cardiac arrest), are you then obligated to anticipate others (insulin for diabetics, EpiPen for allergies)? The simple answer is no. Here’s why:
People who have severe allergies typically carry their EpiPen with them. Diabetics control their blood sugar and carry insulin or sugary items to counteract both hypo and hyperglycemia. Also, response by EMS to these incidents is usually timely and slightly delayed treatment does not equal imminent brain damage or death. Sudden cardiac arrest can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or physical fitness. While some may have known heart conditions, many who are struck down outside of a hospital have no idea they are at risk. Time is critical! This cannot be stressed enough! Ideally, the patient should receive immediate CPR and a shock from an AED within 3 to 5 minutes of collapse for the best possible outcome. Any delay can lead to brain damage at best, death at worst.
Good Samaritan laws in all 50 states protect laypersons (which includes store staff, customers, management) specifically who use an AED to rescue someone in cardiac arrest. There has never been a successful lawsuit against a user or owner of a properly maintained AED for negligence in instances where the AED was unable to save the victim. There should NEVER be hesitation to grab the AED in any case where you have an unconscious victim. You can not accidentally shock them, even if you have misdiagnosed their condition as sudden cardiac arrest when it is something else. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest, however, is the key to knowing when to use CPR and an AED.
So why are retailers resisting placing AEDs in their locations? Is it the cost? When viewed as an insurance investment, the cost is minimal compared to other insurance methods. Is it the liability? That is addressed by the Good Samaritan laws. Is it the employee training? Most communities have affordable CPR/AED training available locally through organizations like YMCA, or their fire or EMS departments; if not, there are always private CPR/AED instructors and classes available. Is it the maintenance? A simple glance at an AED will tell you if it is in good working condition – they all have indicators which relay “all is well”, usually in the form of a green light or checkmark. If there is an issue there will be no light, a red light, a red X, or audible beeping to tell you something is wrong.
Hopefully, as more people become aware of AEDs and their life-saving capabilities, they will find their way into every public space. Want to see AEDs at your local stores? Let them know!