Court Affirms Ruling for Facility Operator in Case Involving Defibrillator

Aug 17, 2007

A California appeals court has affirmed the ruling of a trial court that an ice hockey facility did not owe a duty to advise the participants in an ice hockey game that they had an automatic external defibrillator (AED) and its exact location.
The impetus of the litigation was the death of Nicholas Rotolo, who was participating in the game when he suffered a heart attack. The parents then sued, alleging that the operators had a duty to notify users of the facility of the existence and location of an automatic external defibrillator (AED) at the facility.
The timely use of such a device, they argued, would have greatly increased the teenager’s chances of survival. The trial court sustained the operators’ demurrer to the parents’ third amended complaint. After finding that the parents could not state a cause of action under the facts as pleaded and denying them leave to amend, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the operators. (Superior Court of Santa Clara County, No. 105CV037728, William J. Elfving, Judge.)
The parents appealed.
The appeals court noted that the California Legislature has enacted “a number of detailed and comprehensive statutes governing the acquisition and use of AEDs (Civ. Code, § 1714.21; Health & Saf. Code, § 1797.196; Gov. Code, § 8455). These statutes reflect legislative policy to encourage the availability of AEDs by providing immunity from liability for those who acquire the devices, when they are used in an attempt to save a life.
“Furthermore, under the common law of the state, the duty of care of a landlord, based on the special relationship to tenants and invitees, has never been extended to impose an affirmative duty such as the parents sought to impose, to give notice to prospective invitees of the existence and location of a medical device. The operators did nothing to increase the risk of an injury that was inherent in the sport.”
In a final note, the court added that “the negligent undertaking doctrine did not apply because the two elements underlying the doctrine were not present: the operators’ acquisition of an AED did not increase the risk of harm to those using the facility, and the users of the property did not rely to their detriment on the operators’ undertaking.”
The court declined to impose a legal duty “where the Legislature had not imposed a duty and where the duty the parents proposed was not supported by controlling precedent in the body of common law.”
Christine Rotolo et al. v. San Jose Sports and Entertainment, LLC, et al.; Ct.App.Calif., 6th App. Cir.; H029936, 151 Cal. App. 4th 307; 59 Cal. Rptr. 3d 770; 2007 Cal. App. LEXIS 843; 5/24/07
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiffs) Reed Smith, Paul D. Fogel, Raymond A. Cardozo, Jayne E. Fleming; Hinton, Alfert & Sumner, Peter J. Hinton and Elise R. Sanguinetti. (for defendants) Selman Breitman, Paul E. Stephan and Jennifer J. Capabianco.


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