By Adam R. Young

Seyfarth Synopsis:  Employers are widely installing AEDs to protect employees and visitors, but some states require strict compliance with AED regulations to insulate employers from tort liability.

Employers are Installing AEDs

Reports indicate that over 350,000 Americans suffer from sudden cardiac arrest each year, and approximately 95% of sudden cardiac arrest victims die before reaching the hospital. The majority who receive a defibrillation shock within four minutes of the event survive.  Perhaps based in part on this data, federal and state laws have mandated the installation of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) in public and government buildings.  Employers across the United States are installing AEDs to protect their employees, customers, and visitors.  Many employers are promoting the business case for installing AED devices, particularly as key management employees across the workforce age and become statistically more likely to suffer such an event.

Tort Liability

Plaintiffs’ lawyers consistently seek new ways to sue American businesses, especially with regard to novel tools for medical treatment.  Adding AEDs at your workplace can have the unintended effect of new liabilities — tort liabilities based on an employees’ (1) failure to use the AED when an employee suffers a sudden cardiac arrest, or (2) failure to administer aid with the AED properly.

Imagine: your company has purchased an AED.  A visiting customer suffers a cardiac arrest event and your employees scramble to retrieve the AED.  Your employee calls 911 and uses the AED as he waits for paramedics to arrive.  Unfortunately, the customer goes into a coma and passes away two days later.  One year later, you learn that the late customer’s estate has sued the Company and you personally, alleging that you and the Company have been negligent in installing the AED and allowing an employee to operate it “improperly.”

Limited Civil Immunity

Most states have passed laws making employers immune for lawsuits related to the provision or omission of care with an AED.  However, many of those laws, such as the Illinois AED Act, only provide immunity if the employer complies with each and every requirement in each statute’s laundry list of AED rules.  Some examples of these mandatory rules include:

  • Training Requirements — anticipated rescuers need to be properly trained by certified instructors. Rescuers and instructors needs to be retrained periodically.
  • Settings and Maintenance — employers must select AEDs from an approved government list. AEDs must be set in the appropriate modes. They must be properly maintained and tested.
  • Notification — Employers must notify the proper authorities with specific data on their AEDs. After use in a medical emergency, employees must activate the emergency response system.

Limited Room for Error

The bullets above are examples of common requirements under state AED laws.  Recent case law in Illinois, for instance, provides that if employers fail to comply with any single AED requirement, they could lose all immunity from negligence claims. Accordingly, courts have ruled that Illinois employers must comply with all training and notification requirements, or they face potential lawsuits related to employees’ misuse of AEDs.

All 50 states have their own requirements, which may vary considerably.  Employers should consult with legal counsel to ensure that they comply with their state’s AED laws.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the author, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.

By Andrew S. Boutros, Benjamin D. Briggs, and Craig B. Simonsen

iStock_000042612884_MediumSeyfarth Synopsis: Companies cannot go to prison, but their executives and managers can when they violate the OSHA laws. And, companies can face stiff fines and other business-disrupting (or ending) collateral consequences for conduct resulting in worker deaths. Make sure that your company’s safety programs and training efforts are “up to snuff” if you wish to avoid OSHA liability.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced this week that a high volume ferrous and nonferrous scrap processor was sentenced to five years’ probation, and ordered to pay restitution of $350,000 to an employee-victim’s estate.  According to the DOJ the employer was also previously ordered to pay a fine of $520,000 in a related administrative OSHA case. See also Sentencing Memorandum, and Stipulation and Settlement Agreement, U.S.A. v. Behr Iron & Steel, Inc., No. 3:16-CR-50015 (June 30, 2016 and July 12, 2016, respectively).

Factually, this employer shredded metals with a shredding machine in the employer’s facility. In the process the shredded pieces fell onto a conveyor belt located underground in a “shredder discharge pit.” The shredded materials were then moved by the conveyor belt out of the discharge pit and through a sorting process. During the process it was not uncommon for some of the shredded metals to fall onto the ground of the discharge pit near the conveyor belt. Employees working on the shredding machine were required to clean the discharge pit on a daily basis. The employees shoveled shredded materials from the floor of the discharge pit onto the running conveyor belt. In March 2014, a company employee was cleaning a discharge pit when the employee’s arm was caught by an unguarded conveyor belt.  The employee was pulled into the machinery and killed.

In the court proceedings, the employer admitted that there was “no lock or operable emergency shut off switch in the discharge pit for the conveyor belt, and the conveyor belt did not have guards designed to protect employees.” The employer also admitted that employees in the discharge pit were “not adequately trained to use the shredder or the conveyor belt, and that the company had not developed and implemented confined space protection for employees entering the discharge pit.”

This case provides a solemn reminder for employers that safety is the responsibility that every employer must embrace with the utmost seriousness. When a knowing failure to fulfill this responsibility leads to a tragic fatality, as it did in this case, employers can find themselves facing not only administrative penalties and civil liability, but potential criminal liability. Companies cannot go to jail, but their executives and managers can. Here, Behr Iron & Steel Inc. received a probationary sentence.  But, under different more egregious circumstances, a company could face even stiffer fines and other business-ending collateral consequences that force it to turn off the lights:  The “corporate death penalty,” as it is known.  The old Benjamin Franklin adage applies equally in OSHA cases:  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the OSHA Compliance, Enforcement & Litigation Team or the White Collar, Internal Investigations, and False Claims Team.