SAN FRANCISCO — The California Supreme Court on Monday ruled that large retailers aren’t required to have defibrillators on hand to help treat customers and workers who suffer sudden cardiac arrest.
The ruling signals the end of a Los Angeles-area family’s wrongful-death lawsuit alleging Target was liable for a customer’s sudden death from cardiac arrest because it didn’t have one of the devices as part of its first-aid plan.
The state Supreme Court ruled such a requirement was an unfair burden on Target Corp.
But the court said it was best left to the state Legislature to decide if retailers should have the devices on hand to deliver a life-saving jolt of electricity to a stalled heart. Lawmakers are in a better position to determine if retailers should be required to have defibrillators by writing detailed legislation, the court said.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote for the court that “we believe that in this context the Legislature is generally in the best position to examine, evaluate and resolve the public policy considerations relevant to the duty question.”
For two decades, an increasing number of public places in the U.S. have been required to have automated external defibrillators on hand, including government buildings, airports and many other public places. In that time, defibrillators have become cheaper to buy and easier to use. All 50 states and the federal government have laws requiring various entities to have the devices in place, beginning with a Florida law passed in 1997.
Oregon is the only state that requires large retailers to have defibrillators, which are widely acknowledged as a powerful lifesaver if used immediately after a cardiac arrest. The American Heart Association says as many as 300,000 Americans suffer cardiac arrest each year and that the quick use of a defibrillator can increase survival rates from 8 percent to 30 percent.
The case before the California Supreme Court arises from a wrongful-death lawsuit the Verdugo family filed in federal court against Target. After a federal judge tossed out the lawsuit, the family appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The federal appeals court asked the California Supreme Court to determine if large retailers are required under state law to have the devices.
Now that the state high court said Target isn’t required, it’s expected the lawsuit will be dismissed.