“Death by Gym” Less Likely Now – Court Imposes Affirmative Duty to Use Defibrillator

A state appellate court recently held that the New York statute that requires certain health clubs in the State of New York to provide an automated external defibrillator (AED) device, as well as a person trained in its use, also imposes an affirmative duty of care upon said clubs so as to give rise to a cognizable statutory cause of action in negligence for failure to use the device.   The court, in Miglino v. Bally Total Fitness of Greater N.Y., Inc., 2011 NY Slip Op 09603 (App. Div. 2 Dept. Dec. 27, 2011), upheld a cause of action based on the alleged negligent failure to use an AED, allegedly resulting in a heart attack victim’s death.  (The decision only addressed the threshold issue of whether a claim was stated, rather than the ultimate question of liability.)

In finding such an implicit duty, the court cited the well-recognized risk of heart attacks following strenuous exercise and the usefulness of applying defibrillation shortly after a heart attack occurs.  It also cited the legislative intent underlying the above-referenced statute to “make AED devices readily available for use in gyms” and “increase the number of lives that could be saved through” their use.

In addition:

Although the statute does not contain any provision that specifically imposes an affirmative duty upon the facility to make use of its required AEDs, it also does not contain any provision stating that there is no duty to act[.] … Moreover, it is illogical to conclude that no such duty exists.  … [A] strict construction should not be utilized to eviscerate the very purpose for which the legislation was enacted.  A court should avoid a statutory interpretation rendering the provision meaningless or defeating its apparent purpose[.] … Applying these principles, and inasmuch as there is no dispute that General Business Law § 627-a requires certain health club facilities to provide an AED on the premises, as well as a person trained to use such device, it is anomalous to conclude that there is no duty to use the device should the need arise. Stated differently, why statutorily mandate a health club facility to provide the device if there is no concomitant requirement to use it?

Such a duty was also justified in light of the partial immunity granted health clubs from liability arising from their use of AEDs, which would be “superfluous if the statute did not also impose a duty upon the health clubs to use, or attempt to make use of, the device, depending upon the circumstances of the particular medical emergency.”  The court also noted that the heightened “gross negligence” standard – imposed by the “Good Samaritan” law incorporated by the AED statute – was inapplicable “where, as here, the cause of action is based on the failure to employ the device, as opposed to the manner in which it was employed”.

The downside, of course, is that I now have one less excuse to go to the gym.