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Tuesday, July 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Target Cleared for Lack of Emergency Defibrillator

(CN) - Though the 9th Circuit cleared Target of liability on Tuesday with regard to the fatal heart attack suffered by one of its shoppers, the case spurred a call for California lawmakers to take action.

Mary Ann Verdugo went into sudden cardiac arrest while shopping at a Target in Pico Rivera in 2008. The 49-year-old died before paramedics arrived several minutes later.

In their subsequent complaint against Target for wrongful death, Verdugo's mother and brother argued that the retailer had a duty to install Automatic External Defibrillators (AED) in its stores.

A Los Angeles federal judge ruled for Target, but the Verdugos insisted in their appeal to the 9th Circuit that California common law created the alleged responsibility.

Finding no clear precedent in state law, a three-judge appellate panel certified the issue to the California Supreme Court in 2012.

The 9th Circuit affirmed Tuesday based on the state's high court recent finding that, 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."

Writing separately from the unsigned ruling, Judge Harry Pregerson said that he hoped "big box stores like Target will, at the very least, recognize their moral obligation to make AEDs available for use in a medical emergency."

Pregerson also urged the California Legislature to consider taking action on this issue.

"I believe that AEDs should be considered first aid," Pregerson wrote. "They are crucial to the survival of sudden cardiac arrest victims. They are inexpensive, nearly foolproof, and are necessary when, as happened here, paramedics cannot reach a victim in time to save the person's life. I believe that AEDs should be as common as first aid kits, and that big box stores like Target should be required to make them available to their customers who suffer sudden cardiac arrest."

Pregerson noted that Oregon has a law that requires big-box stores such as Target to install defibrillators.

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