Target and other retail stores in California are under no legal obligation to install defibrillators for customer safety in case a patron suffers a heart attack. That was the unanimous ruling Monday by the state Supreme Court.
The ruling is a defeat for the relatives of Mary Ann Verdugo, a 49-year-old who suffered a heart attack in a Los Angeles County Target store in 2008 and died.
The Verdugo family sued Target maintaining it had breached its duty of care that businesses owe customers. Their complaint estimated that 300,000 people in the U.S. suffer sudden cardiac arrest annually.
The high court held that while businesses have a legal obligation to take “reasonable care” of their customers, including seeking medical care if they are injured while in the business, that does not included defibrillators for emergencies.
Under state law private gyms and fitness centers must have the devices on hand and the state also pays for them in buildings owned or leased by the state. The devices, officially known as automated external defibrillator (AED) are for use in giving a small electric jolt to the chest for someone who has suffered cardiac arrest.
Mandating a supply of defibrillators would be more complicated than just keeping the machines on the wall for emergencies.
To qualify for immunity from civil damages under the state’s Good Samarritan law, the Target store would have to train employees to use the device, have an employee available during business hours, test the device every 30 days and have a written emergency plan.
This “would impose considerably more than a minor or minimal burden on a business establishment,” wrote Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye for the court.
The case came through a referral from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which asked the high court to address the question of state law about whether a business has a common law duty of care for customers that would include placement of AED’s for medical emergencies.
The Verdugo case will now be referred back to the 9th Circuit with the high court’s answer and likely be the end of the Verdugo’s case.
Case: Verdugo v. Target Corp., No. S207313