Commentary Saving a Life by Enabling Bostons Good Samaritans

Commentary: Saving a Life by Enabling Boston’s Good Samaritans

Dr. Glenn W. Laub, Defibtech CEO
March 10, 2009

Just a few days ago, three Good Samaritan rescuers in Boston used a Defibtech automated external defibrillator (AED) to save the life of a man who collapsed at the North Station rail platform. To save this victim of sudden cardiac arrest, these Good Samaritans needed to react with a readily available AED in just a few minutes. That’s because almost all sudden cardiac arrest victims left unattended for 10 minutes die. Victims treated with an AED within five minutes usually live. Expecting EMS to arrive within 10 minutes, especially in Boston traffic, places unrealistic expectations on these professional responders.

The man whose life was saved benefited from an AED being available due to the efforts of advocates including Marlene Allen, the widow of Dr. James R. Allen. She encouraged the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to install the AEDs after her husband died on an MBTA train unequipped with an AED. All individuals saved by AEDs also benefit from the esteem our society places on Good Samaritan acts and from the desire of many organizations to do the right thing and make these lifesaving devices available.

Laws must support our natural impulse to help

However, our natural impulse to respond humanely is sometimes tempered by legal concerns, either real or perceived. Concerns about legal risks posed by the use of AEDs still remain, despite the thousands of lives saved by these devices and laws that provide lifesavers with civil immunity.

As the lifesaving in Boston shows, organizations considering AED deployment should not let liability concerns be a barrier. A carefully planned, implemented and maintained AED program can mitigate any liability risks while saving lives. A 2004 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that public access to AEDs significantly improved the chances of survival from sudden cardiac arrest.

Good Samaritan laws protect rescuers from unfair lawsuits

Aptly named Good Samaritan laws protect from liability individuals who choose to aid people who are injured or ill. A specific type of Good Samaritan law, the federal Cardiac Arrest Survival Act, signed into law in 2000, protects individuals and building owners acting in good faith to save a life with an AED from unfair lawsuits. Plus, Good Samaritan laws in Massachusetts provide immunity to AED rescuers. As a result of these laws, AEDs have become more commonplace in public areas.

Liability tide shifts in favor of having AEDs

Just like a fire extinguisher or any other safety device, an AED must be properly maintained after it is purchased and placed into service. In addition, individuals in an organization should be trained on how to use an AED as part as an overall emergency-response plan. While failure to adequately maintain AEDs or train individuals on how to use them may still represent a liability pitfall, these concerns are heavily outweighed by the risks organizations take by not having AEDs.

The liability tide has shifted in favor of having AEDs and personnel trained in CPR readily available. Several organizations have been successfully sued after individuals died because AEDs were not available or because employees did not receive proper AED training. The nation’s courts have increasingly acknowledged the availability of an AED as a “required standard of care” for employees and citizens in public areas.

Help form the “chain of survival”

Making AEDs more widely available to trained emergency responders can save tens of thousands of lives, according to the American Heart Association. In many communities and organizations, a four-step “chain of survival” process (early access by calling 9-1-1, early CPR, early AED treatment, and early advance care) is already saving lives.

I strongly encourage all organizations to do the right thing for their customers – protect them from sudden cardiac arrest through the implementation of a well-planned, managed and maintained AED program.

Dr. Glenn W. Laub is a practicing cardiac surgeon and CEO of Defibtech, a creator and manufacturer of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) located in Guilford, Conn.