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Vitale-Gordon Bill To Create Liability Shield For Organizations, Individuals Who Use Defibrillators Advances

A view of the Senate Chambers from the 2010-2011 Senate Reorganization.

Legislation Would Remove Civil Liability for Using Automated External Defibrillators

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale and Bob Gordon that would protect good Samaritans who use an automated external defibrillator while attempting to save someone’s life from civil liability was approved unanimously today by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

“Hundreds of thousands of people die every year from sudden cardiac arrest, many of whom could be saved if an automated external defibrillator was nearby,” said Senator Vitale, (D-Middlesex) Chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “Unfortunately, our current laws discourage organizations from acquiring a defibrillator, and put undo strain – including fear of lawsuits – on those who use the devices to save a person’s life. This legislation updates the law to protect those good Samaritans who go out of their way to try and save someone in cardiac arrest.”

The bill, S-852, would eliminate language in current law that requires that a person using an automated external defibrillator (AED) to have received training in both CPR and the usage of the AED. The bill would also step down current requirements that entities require CPR and AED training for all people who might use the AED to just the people most likely to use the device.

The bill would provide immunity from civil liability to any lay person who uses an AED and fails, in good faith, to request emergency medical assistance as soon as practicable. It would also provide immunity to the organization that has acquired the AED. The Senators note, that with advancements in technology, AEDs are virtually fool-proof and are designed to walk someone who may never have used the device through the steps to safely save someone’s life. Current devices speak the instructions, step-by-step, and will only administer a defibrillation if the victim needs it.

This bill is in direct response to feedback from the John Taylor Babbitt Foundation whose mission is make sure that an AED is available near all public assemblies. The Foundation fundraises to purchase and donate AEDs to public entities throughout New Jersey. They have found that some organizations such as churches, youth recreation leagues and schools will not accept a donated AED because of the increased liability they assume. According to JoAnne Babbitt, the Vice-President of the Foundation, for each AED they donate, there are eight to ten that are rejected by the public entity because of liability concerns.

“With current technology, practically anyone can respond to an emergency and attempt to save someone’s life with an automated external defibrillator,” said Senator Gordon (D-Bergen/Passaic). “The law currently on the books is antiquated and based off of technology from years past, where someone needed to have extensive training to successfully use these devices. It is time that we update these laws, to conform to the new device’s technology, so that those who use an AED on someone in sudden cardiac arrest are not punished for their good intentions and potentially life-saving actions.”

In the United States, nearly 300,000 people are victims of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) each year – a condition where the heart’s electrical system malfunctions and stops pumping blood to the rest of the body, often without any visible symptoms. According to the Cleveland Clinic, if a heart in sudden cardiac arrest is defibrillated within the first minute, there is a 90 percent chance that the patient will survive. Survival rates decrease 10 percent for every minute a person in SCA waits to be defibrillated. Due to a lack of access to AEDs, currently only five percent of people in SCA survive. Early defibrillation is the most critical step for survival for someone experiencing SCA.

An automated external defibrillator is a portable device that is used to restore heart rhythms to patients in cardiac arrest. It automatically analyzes the heart rhythm of the patient and advises the user whether or not a defibrillation is needed to return the patient to a normal heart beat.

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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