Vitale-Gordon Bill To Create Liability Shield For Organizations, Individuals Who Use Defibrillators Receives Final Approval, Heads To Governor’s Desk

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 from civil liability good Samaritans who use an automated external defibrillator while attempting to save someone’s life was unanimously passed in the Assembly yesterday, receiving final legislative approval.

“Hundreds of thousands of people die each year from sudden cardiac arrest, many of whom could have had the chance for survival if an automated external defibrillator was available and used within the first few minutes of distress,” said Senator Vitale, (D-Middlesex) Chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “Unfortunately, our current laws discourage organizations from obtaining AEDs by adding liability concerns for both the organizations and those who attempt to save a life using the machine. This legislation will protect those who in good faith use an AED in an attempt to save someone’s life.”

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 practical. It would also provide immunity to the organization that has acquired the AED. The Senators note that with advancements in technology AEDs are virtually foolproof and are designed to walk someone who may never have used the device through the steps to safely perform the defibrillation process. 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.

“In the past, defibrillators were complicated equipment that needed trained professionals to effectively be used, but with advancements in technology, current AEDs can walk a layman through the process of defibrillating someone in cardiac arrest,” said Senator Gordon (D-Bergen/Passaic). “With these advancements, must come an update in the law so that AEDs will be more readily available where they can be used as intended to save people’s lives. Additionally, these laws must protect organizations and people who acquire and use an AED, so that they are not punished for their efforts.”

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 was approved Monday in the Senate with a vote of 37-1. It now heads to the Governor for his signature.

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