Churches are increasingly being targeted for civil suits because someone was injured or assaulted on their campuses. In some instances, churches have been sued because someone had a heart attack, perhaps during a worship service or exercise class, and died because there was no Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) available onsite, or because the available AED was not used.
While California state law does not require churches to have an AED installed and available, it may still be advisable for the church to purchase, install and train first-responders in the use of an AED; depending on the size and layout of the campus, more than one unit may be advisable or necessary. If there are members or attenders who are registered nurses, physicians or paramedics/EMTs, there already are some first-responders who can easily be trained to use an AED, and who can be certified to train others.
Effective January 1, 2016, newly constructed buildings in California may require AEDs to be purchased for the facility. “Assembly” places, such as a church capable of seating 300 or more, and most other commercial spaces and schools with a capacity of 200 or more also are required to place at least one AED in their facility.
If your church operates (or leases its property to) a private school for students in grades K-12 there probably should be one or more AEDs onsite, and the church or school needs to be in compliance with that requirement. Section 1797.196 of the Health and Safety Code spells out the exact requirements, including a minimum of one trained person for each AED (up to five), “readiness” inspections, testing and other maintenance responsibilities (download the full text of the code).
Recent amendments to that code have lowered the “plaintiff’s bar” in a way that probably makes it easier for a church or school to be sued. Monthly inspections have been reduced, in most cases, to every 90 days, and most aspects of mandatory training of personnel have been dropped. School personnel must receive annual “information” concerning sudden cardiac arrest and other aspects of the AED. You and your liability insurer do not want to be in this unenviable position!
An in-depth article recently was featured in Church Tax & Law, a publication of Christianity Today, that looks at various aspects of a church’s decision to purchase an AED … or not. In our increasingly litigious society, not having an AED onsite could expose the church to avoidable risk. Certain immunities are granted under state law when the church or school makes an AED available and has trained personnel to use it. Churches generally have little or nothing to fear by purchasing, installing and maintaining an AED on their campus.
A download on this page of "The Legal and Moral Case for a Defibrillator" by Richard R. Hammar includes real examples and case studies.
There currently are six manufacturers of FDA-approved AEDs, which range in price from $1,000 to $3,000. Various distributors offer “value packages” that include wall cabinets and signs, defibrillator pads for children/infants and adults, and maintenance services, which can include registration with local EMS providers.
A comprehensive “buyer’s guide” comparison of various approved AEDs is available to download.
[NOTE: CSBC has no relationship with and does not endorse or recommend the AED vendor that created the buyer’s guide – we simply make it available as a resource. Your church’s decision to consider purchasing an AED from any vendor requires due diligence to make sure the vendor is reputable, reliable, offers competitive prices and has dedicated customer service personnel. Vendors may be available locally or via the Internet, and services and prices vary considerably.]