News

Dangerous Misconceptions: the ‘risk’ of defibrillators

Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Ambulance reponse times are not fast enough to dispense with AEDs and CPR

Aero Healthcare was recently surprised to learn one of our customers wanted to return a defibrillator they had just purchased. The reason wasn't dissatisfaction with the AED nor financial issues: the company had decided that having a defibrillator on-site would be a large risk to their staff, and in the case of Cardiac Arrest they would prefer to call an ambulance.

This line of reasoning is dangerously flawed:

  • An Ambulance is always required.
  • For every minute an Ambulance takes to arrive there is a 10% decrease in likelihood that a victim of Cardiac Arrest will survive.
  • Ambulance response times are typically 12-15 minutes (more for remote locations), so this is a very serious factor.
  • Using a defibrillator during this time that has a CPR coaching function can increase the chance of survival for Cardiac Arrest to 85%

Ambulance Victoria recently outlined the need for an AED and for CPR to assist in increasing the chance of survival before an Ambulance arrives:

Furthermore there is no physical risk to staff or the victim: a defibrillator will not and cannot be made to deliver a shock unless it detects the need for one.

There is very little legal risk to staff using a defibrillator: all Australian states and territories have enacted "Good Samaritan" laws that offer legal protection to a person who gives assistance in a medical emergency. The entire purpose of this legislation is to encourage people to assist strangers in need without the fear of legal repercussions from an error in treatment. There has been no reported Australian case in which a “Good Samaritan” has been sued by a person claiming that the actions of the good Samaritan were negligent.

While some may leap upon the statement that there is "very little legal risk" as opposed to "no legal risk", we should again reiterate that there have been no reported cases where anyone has been successfully sued for performing CPR or using an AED, or for that matter, not doing CPR or not using an AED.

For those worried about the liability of the company who purchased the AEDs, a company is a legal person so it too could argue that by allowing its staff member to render assistance, it was a “Good Samaritan” and entitled to any protection the law provides. The reason why we can only say they “could argue” is again that there is no precedence for companies needing to argue this in Australian courts.

With almost 30,000 people in Australia dying each year from Sudden Cardia Arrest, it is tragic for a business to reverse the decision of installing a defibrillator for the purpose of saving lives - especially when that decision is based on unfounded fears of litigation and the misconception that a victim of Cardiac Arrest can rely on the response time of Ambulances.

The above does not constitute Legal Advice. If you have any concerns or questions, please refer to your lawyer.

Further Reading:

James Tibballs, 2004
"Legal Liabilities for Assitance and Lack of Assistance rendered by Good Samaritans and Volunteers"

Australian Resus Council, 2015
"Section 10: Guideline 10.5 - Legal and Ethical Issues Related to Resuscitation"

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