California stores aren’t required to have defibrillators, court rules

Target store
Target and other big box retailers do not have to have defibrillators on hand, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday in a case brought by the family of a woman who suffered a fatal heart attack in a Target store in Pico Rivera.
(Steven Senne / Associated Press)

Large retail stores in California are not legally required to have automated external defibrillators for customers in case of medical emergencies, the California Supreme Court decided unanimously Monday.

In a ruling written by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the state’s highest court said California law requires only that  “health studios” have such potentially life-saving devices and encourages most public buildings to have them.

The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the family of Mary Ann Verdugo, 49, who suffered a fatal heart attack in 2008 while shopping at a Target  store in Pico Rivera. Paramedics were summoned, but by the time they reached Verdugo, she could not be revived.

Verdugo’s family argued that Target should have had a defibrillator, an electronic device that gives an electrical shock to the heart. According to the American Heart Assn., a victim’s chance of survival drops by 7% to 10% for each minute that passes without defibrillation.


“Under California law, Target’s common law duty of care to its customers does not include a duty to acquire and make available an AED for use in a medical emergency,” the chief justice wrote.

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit again Target, and Verdugo’s family appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. A 9th Circuit panel, weighing whether to revive the suit, asked the California Supreme Court whether state law imposed a duty on businesses to keep defibrillators.

The case will now return to the 9th Circuit.

Follow @mauradolan for the latest rulings from the California Supreme Court.



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