Lawyers Council Businesses to Eschew AED Programs, but Maybe the Lawyers aren’t the Problem

“Anyone who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll stones out of his way, but must accept his lot calmly, even if they roll a few stones upon it.”

‑Albert Schweitzer


“Our deeds determine us, as much as we determine our deeds.”

‑George Eliot


Among the activities we do here at Global is the selling of AED’s and the maintaining of defibrillation programs. From time to time, we review some of the common hurdles we run into when we try to set up someone with a new defibrillator.  One of those obstacles is the fear that AED programs increase a company’s exposure to legal liability, so to help with this I did some research and went looking for concrete arguments against carrying defibrillators to examine and refute.

What I found instead was a lot of vague rhetoric of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Oddly enough, a great deal of the FUD surrounding defibrillation programs seems to come from the place where you’d expect to find more substantive advice: corporate legal teams. In the process, I also got a chance to read the waters of the corporate world with regards to altruism.

And, folks, the waters are troubled. Here’s one example.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), a US lobbyist group for hotel owners, issued a legal briefing on the ramifications of adopting AED programs. Their advice? Avoid carrying them because hotels that do could be sued for failing to have enough units, putting them in the right places, replacing batteries, maintaining them properly, or training their staff. “This type of exposure is known as the ‘no good deed goes unpunished’ exposure, “the group’s lawyers told its members, “None of those arguments could be made if you had no AED at all.”

First off, this argument is full of holes and the lawyers know that. Or they should, and what they don’t know they could have found out with one phone call. I’ll save that issue for another post except to say this: of the over 350 000 people who die every year from sudden cardiac arrest, of the thousands of AED’s currently deployed throughout North America, no one who applied an AED to help a cardiac arrest victim has ever been sued for it and no patient has ever been unnecessarily shocked with an AED.

What I wanted to look at was this notion that the performance of good deeds somehow leads to a kind of undeserved hardship.

For starters, the AHLA lawyers are right as far as immediate corporate concerns go. AED’s cost money and most businesses are not required by law to carry them. But here’s the thing: people don’t serve the corporations. It’s the other way around. That’s why we invented them. Corporations are beholden only to themselves. Human beings are beholden to one another. Sure, you can try to rationalize the lobbyists’ stance from a liability and legal standpoint, but when there is a cardiac incident, a reckoning will follow. A board of directors may run a corporation; an employer may direct his staff. But even when under the authority of others, our actions belong only to us. Whether it’s with whatever god you believe in, the widow of a dead cardiac arrest victim, or yourself in the bathroom mirror, the eyes that stare back will never accept “I was told not to,” as an excuse for inaction.

A number of corporations will, it appears, need to be dragged into the world of public access early defibrillation. But not all of them, and the pulling won’t be by us at Global (at least not entirely).

As I researched, I found that people, executives included, want the AED’s. Even if the corporation as a whole sometimes does not. As I spoke with individuals, as I browsed the internet forums and blogs, I kept finding people who think having them is a good idea. I keep finding people who dread thought of someone dying at their workplace and not being able to help. The truth is that your work is not finished when you finalize an AED program. There is a catch: you will have to replace the batteries, maintain your plan and train your staff not because you might be sued, but because your commitment to having an AED will require it. Then one day you may have to use what you’ve prepared. And that action will belong to you too. None of this is a punishment as the AHLA lawyers might have you think. That’s your reward. It’s the underlying truth about any good deed. It leads to another, harder, and better one. But only if you can be strong enough, only if you can stand it.


One response to “Lawyers Council Businesses to Eschew AED Programs, but Maybe the Lawyers aren’t the Problem”

  1. Richard Lazar says :

    Your blog article is quite interesting. However, I thought I’d clarify a couple of points relating to legal liability (at least in the United States) arising from the deployment of AEDs in non-medical settings.

    Companies and their lawyers raise legitimate concerns about liability risk surrounding AED ownership. There is often increased liability risk for AED owners due the many ways AED programs can and do fail (people issues, equipment issues, site issues, etc.). AEDs and training alone are insufficient when it comes to maintaining an effective and risk managed AED program. Consistent program management of all AED program elements is essential. The failure to properly design, implement and operate AED programs does in fact increase liability risk and, while these risks can indeed be managed, company lawyers and managers are correct to highlight the issues. (Companies in certain sectors without AEDs face their own set of risks.)

    Your assertion that “no one who applied an AED to help a cardiac arrest victim has ever been sued for it and no patient has ever been unnecessarily shocked with an AED.” This statement tells only part of the story. While it is rare for individuals trying to aid sudden cardiac arrest victims to be sued directly, an increasing number of companies with AEDs are lawsuits over alleged failures of AED programs to operate as expected. This trend will continue with the increasing number of AEDs being deployed.

    There are lots of good reasons for companies to implement AED programs. From a risk management perspective, however, it is important that such programs be thoughtfully designed and properly managed over the long-term. A well designed and managed AED program can save lives and manage risk.

    Thanks for raising this important issue.

    Richard A. Lazar, Principal
    Lazar AED Consulting

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