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Verdugo v. Target Corporation

In a case with potentially explosive impact, the California Supreme Court recently decided under what circumstances commercial property owners in California must have automatic external defibrillators (AED's). The court found that retailers are not obligated to acquire AED's in anticipation of potential medical emergencies. For retailers, the burden of maintaining AED's, outweigh the foreseeability of harm.

The case itself involved a 49 year old developmentally disabled shopper with serious health issues. She died after experiencing a sudden cardiac arrest at a California Target store. The store lacked an AED or an employee trained to use one. The family sued Target for wrongful death claiming that the availability of an AED would have saved the decedent's life.

A federal trial court dismissed the case finding that Target had no legal obligation to have AED's in its stores. The family then appealed to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that a legal obligation does exist under California common law requiring Target to have AEDs. The Supreme Court was then asked to decide whether a common law duty to have AED's exists.

The question presented to the Court was "in what circumstances, if ever, does the common law duty of a commercial property owner to provide emergency first aid to invitees require the availability of an AED for cases of sudden cardiac arrest?" The Court declined to find a common law duty requiring commercial property owners like Target to have AED's. The result is consistent with nearly all of the cases that have considered this question and with public policy considerations. And, more broadly the case holds that "when the precautionary medical safety measures that a plaintiff contends a business should have provided are costly or burdensome rather than minimal, the common law does not impose a duty on a business to provide such safety measures in the absence of a showing of a heightened or high degree of foreseeability of the medical risk in question."

Diana P. Lytel, Co‐Chair

General Liability Committee - ASCDC