Taking the Blame

Despite the cost, considering that defibrillators have been around since the 1970s, are lightweight and portable, and are easy to use, some medical and legal experts wonder why there continues to be resistance to them in some circles.
One reason, Sikorsky said, has been a fear of liability should they be misused. That’s why many states, including Massachusetts, have passed “good Samaritan” legislation shielding defibrillator users from legal trouble. Such a stipulation was included in the federal legislation requiring deployment of the devices in federal buildings.

In fact, Kidd said, “people say they’re concerned about liability issues, but I quarrel with that. The reality is that people fear the technology. They have a fundamental fear that these things don’t work, or won’t work properly. I give seminar after seminar on these issues, and inevitably, after I’ve said 100 times how failsafe they are, someone raises their hand and asks, ‘will I shock someone who’s only fainted, and am I liable if it does so?’”

The liability concern is a false issue anyway, Kidd explained, because someone in cardiac arrest will be dead in anywhere from six to 10 minutes unless the lethal arrhythmia is reversed, and the only way to reverse it is with defibrillation. Given that, and the way laws are currently written, as long as someone is trained and the program has been overseen by a physician, liability is not a threat.

In fact, given the recent activity of firms like Robinson Donovan, not having defibrillators on hand seems to be the greater risk. “We’ve sued under common law — that everyone has the duty to act reasonably,” Sikorsky said. “For instance, air carriers have the duty to deal with reasonable, foreseeable medical emergencies, and cardiac arrest is a foreseeable emergency.”

More private businesses are starting to come around to the value of defibrillators, Kidd said, “but the progress is remarkably slow.” Meanwhile, Sabola said, the American Heart Association is already looking to the day when most Americans with heart disease have defibrillators — and trained caregivers — in the home.
“We’re told they’ll be as popular as fire extinguishers eventually,” she said.

If that’s the case, the raging blaze of cardiac arrest deaths now sweeping the nation could someday be reduced to a brush fire.