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California Supreme Court clarifies rules in wrongful death suit

Residents of California may or may not be aware of a state health code statute that requires certain facilities such as gyms to ensure automated external defibrillators are available for the patrons in the event that someone would go into cardiac arrest. This very health code statute was the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit when a 48-year-old woman died after going into cardiac arrest in a California Target store that did not have an AED on site.

The lawsuit, filed by the woman’s mother and brother, alleged that Target was in violation of a common law duty to provide first aid to the numerous customers that visit their stores day in and day out. The lowest court and a U.S. appeals court both ruled against the woman’s family stating that the retailer was not required to provide AED assistance in the event of cardiac arrest. The case was then taken to the state’s Supreme Court, which agreed with the rulings of both lower courts.

At issue was whether Target had a common law duty of care to carry the AEDs like those facilities covered by the health code. The Supreme Court declined to extend the law to accept this additional duty in this case, helping to clarify the extent of the duty owed by a storeowner to its customers.

Despite the outcome in this case, it illustrates the continually evolving nature of personal injury law. There are always new and unique situations that will challenge the current understanding of the law. For this reason, those looking to understand their options to seek compensation when injured or on behalf of a lost loved one, may want to seek help when considering whether to move forward with a legal claim.

Source: Reuters, “California’s top court says Target not required to carry in-store defibrillators,” Jennifer Chaussee, June 24, 2014

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