New York’s “Good Samaritan Law” and the use of AEDs

The ancient parable of the “Good Samaritan” — exemplifying one who voluntarily assists a stranger (or even an enemy) in imminent danger without expectation of reward — remains a powerful and honored concept and one that has been statutorily codified within the New York Public Health Law to protect volunteers who render emergency medical assistance.

In Miglino v. Bally Total Fitness, the New York Court of Appeals clarified the interplay between the “Good Samaritan” law and New York’s General Business Law, which requires certain “public” institutions, including health clubs, to maintain automatic external defibrillators. In doing so, the court extended the protections afforded by the “Good Samaritan” law to gyms and other entities obligated to maintain AEDs.

New York’s “Good Samaritan” law, codified at N.Y. Public Health Law § 3000-a, applies the heightened standard of “gross negligence” to certain classes of volunteers who render emergency medical assistance outside the setting of a hospital or doctor’s office and who later get sued for allegedly causing injury to the person treated.  Whereas the typical health care provider is subject to an ordinary “negligence” standard, the legislature has cloaked volunteers with a higher degree of protection to incentivize such individuals to act without hesitation when confronted with an emergency situation.

In Miglino, a gym member collapsed in the club, 911 was called, a club receptionist brought an club-owned AED to the member’s side and an employed personal trainer, trained in CPR and to use the AED, responded as well.  The trainer, after detecting respirations and a faint pulse, opted not to employ the AED based upon his prior training.  A doctor and medical student assumed care of the patient, performed CPR, but did not use the AED and EMS then arrived and defibrillated the patient, but was unsuccessful in saving him.

A wrongful death suit ensued claiming, among other things, the club failed to provide a person properly trained to use the AED and there was a failure to employ the AED at all.  Bally moved to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action citing its immunity under the “Good Samaritan Law,” but the motion was denied by the trial court.  The Second Department affirmed and pointed to New York Gen. Bus. Law § 627-a, which not only requires certain health clubs to provide at least one AED and a  person trained to operate it, but “also imposes an affirmative duty of care upon the facility so as to give rise to a cognizable statutory cause of action in negligence for failure to do so.”

The Court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the General Business Law not only required the club to maintain the AED, but to use it as well in an emergency situation.  The court explained that GBL § 627-a explicitly incorporated the “Good Samaritan” provisions of the Public Health Law and, in doing so, did not create a new obligation on club employees to use the AED.  Rather, the club is merely obligated to maintain the AED and, if the AED is used, the “volunteer” must do so in a manner that does not rise to “gross negligence” or the protections afforded by the “Good Samaritan Law” will not apply. Because the original motion was one to dismiss, not for summary judgment, and the plaintiff had pled a separate common law cause of action, the case was sent back to the trial court for further handling, but it would appear the Court’s ruling sounded the eventual death knell for the underlying suit.