The case of Abel Limones, Jr. is perhaps one of the most tragic cases I have seen in over twenty years of handling children’s accidents at Florida schools. Without warning, Abel collapsed while playing soccer at a Lee County, Florida high school. Both his coach and the school nurse frantically attempted CPR– as an available Automated External Defibrillator (AED) sat unused in the end zone. The assistant principal called 911 and eventually both Emergency Medical Services and Fire Rescue arrived and delivered multiple electric shocks to his heart. 23 minutes passed before he was resuscitated; leaving him permanently brain damaged. Today, Abel lives in a vegetative state requiring 24-hour care.
His family sued the School District and the School Board of Lee County Florida for negligence and for not using the AED. A brain damage injury expert testified that had the boy received defibrillation within the first two minutes; he would not have been left brain dead. Judge Kieth R. Kyle, dismissed the case and the family appealed to Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal (2nd DCA).
The appellate court agreed with Judge Kyle’s decision relying upon Florida’s common law which does not require health club owners to provide CPR or maintain an AED when a customer collapses while exercising. Apparently, the Court sees no legal difference between a public high school’s obligation to a student and the a gym’s commercial relationship to an adult customer. The Court also ruled that “under the current state of the law, the School Board had no common law duty to make available, diagnose the need for, or use an AED on Abel.” I disagree.
The family also argued that Florida’s Undertaker’s Doctrine should apply to Abel’s case. Florida’s Undertaker’s Doctrine simply means that if someone voluntarily does something for someone they must perform do it reasonably. Inexplicably, the court also disagreed with this argument by ruling that even though the School had an available AED and trained personnel it did not have to use it on Abel. I simply cannot imagine what other use an AED has other than to save the lives. It is illogical that Florida law mandates that AEDs at high school soccer games to merely be used as a decoration. Read the Court’s opinion.
The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) founded in 1920 is a not for profit organization responsible for supervising, controlling and promoting interscholastic athletic programs. Florida Statute §1006.165(1) requires that members of the FHSAA (both of the schools in this case were in fact members) have an AED and a properly trained employee in its on school grounds at all times. The court interpreting this statute very succinctly found that the school complied with the law because it had both an AED and a trained employee at the game – but had no legal obligation to help Abel.
Florida’s Cardiac Arrest Survival Act §768.1325 is based upon Florida’s Good Samaritan Act. It provides civil immunity to “people” who try to reasonably help someone in an emergency. Florida’s Cardiac Arrest Survival Act encourages people to use AED’s to save lives without the fear of being sued if the person they are trying to save dies. The court extended this protection to the School even though it never even used the device.
This ruling is very dangerous to all of Florida’s students– especially those who are involved in accidents that result in a brain injury. We cannot allow our public schools to avoid legal responsibility for not even attempting to use a defibrillator. I do not believe that Florida’s Good Samaritan Act or the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act should be used as a shield for public schools or any business when it possess an available defibrillator that can save a child’s life. I recently blogged about this issue for the Huffington Post.