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New York’s Highest Appellate Court to Decide Whether Health Club That Was Obligated to Have an AED Was Also Required to Use It (Miglino v. Bally Total Fitness)

Date: 7/16/12

Generally, unless a special relationship exists, there is no legal duty to render aid or assistance to another in peril.  Although there may be a strong moral and humanitarian obligation to furnish such aid and assistance under ordinary circumstances, courts have held that there is no legal responsibility to do so.

This is precisely why New York and other states have enacted so-called “Good Samaritan” statutes.  An overriding purpose of these laws is to encourage individuals to help those in need, even when they are under no legal obligation to assist, by providing them immunity from liability.

In New York, General Business Law §627-a requires every health club whose membership is 500 persons or more to have at least one AED on premises and at least one individual certified to perform CPR and use an AED.  Ten other states have similar laws for health clubs and many have laws requiring AEDs at certain public places (e.g., schools, airports, malls).

In this case, Gregory Miglino was a patron of Bally Total Fitness and suddenly collapsed while playing racquetball.  Bally employees immediately called 911 and brought the AED to his side.  Miglino was monitored by a medical doctor and a medical student, other club members who happened to be present.  The AED was not used by Bally, as the employees deferred to the doctor.  The doctor did not use the AED, for reasons unknown.  Paramedics arrived within minutes and used their AED, but it was too late to save Miglino.  His estate brought suit against Bally, alleging negligent failure to use the AED which would, it is claimed, have saved Miglino’s life.

Because Bally satisfied its statutory obligation to have an AED and a properly certified employee on premises, Bally moved to dismiss the suit.  The court denied Bally’s motion and the Appellate Division, Second Department affirmed that decision.  In its decision, the Second Department found that, because GBL §627-a requires both an AED and person trained to use the device, there is an implicit obligation to use it.  As such, the court found the Miglino estate’s complaint stated a viable cause of action.

Bally has further appealed this matter and the New York Court of Appeals has agreed to decide the case.  In its brief, Bally argues that:

  1. Miglino assumed the risk of suffering a cardiac arrest and, therefore, Bally is exempt from liability.
  2. Bally is protected from liability by New York’s Good Samaritan statute, having called 911 and brought the AED.
  3. Bally had no legal duty to use the AED.  New York’s AED statute is in derogation of the common law duty to provide only minimal assistance to a business invitee.  As such, the statute must be strictly construed to only its express terms.  The statute does not say that the AED must be used and, in fact, contains Good Samaritan liability protection for those who “volunteer” to use the device.  Finding an implicit requirement to use the AED renders meaningless the terms “volunteer” and “voluntarily” that appear in the AED statute.  This violates New York law regarding statutory construction.

It is anticipated that the New York Court of Appeals will decide this case by year’s end.  The final resolution will have potentially wide ranging impact on other AED statutes currently in existence or being proposed.  Stay tuned….

Article By:
Brian Heermance, Partner
Morrison Mahoney LLP

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