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Do California retailers face a common law duty to provide AEDs?



A federal appeals court has directed the California Supreme Court to provide guidance on whether retailers in the state face a common law duty to provide automatic external defibrillators for customer emergencies on their premises.

Tuesday's 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling stems from a wrongful death suit filed by the mother and brother of a woman, Mary Ann Verdugo, who suffered sudden cardiac arrest and subsequently died while shopping in a Target Corp. store in Pico Rivera, Calif., in August 2008. There was no AED available in that store, and the family sued in California Superior Court.

Minneapolis-based Target subsequently had the case moved to federal district court, where it won a motion to dismiss the case arguing that the company had no duty to acquire and install an AED in its store. The Verdugos appealed, arguing that such a duty does exist under California common law, alternatively asking the federal appeals court to certify the case to the California Supreme Court.

“If the court were to accept the Verdugos' view of the relationship between the AED statutes and California common law, then the pertinent question would become whether Target Stores had a duty under California common law to have an AED available,” the appeals court said in its ruling.

In ruling 2-1 to certify the case to the California Supreme Court, the 9th Circuit said, “In sum, given the uncertainty in the most applicable California precedents as applied to the present circumstances, weighing the foreseeability of the harm suffered by Verdugo against the burden to be imposed on Target does not provide a clear answer to the question of whether Target had a duty under California law to purchase AEDs.”