It is tragic when a student is hurt or killed in an athletic event due to a school’s failure to adequately supervise the student. Florida courts recognize that students owe a duty to students because they stand “partially in place of the student’s parents.”
When it comes to sporting events, schools must provide adequate instruction and adequate equipment, exercise reasonable care in matching athletes (in, for example, activities like wrestling), supervise appropriately and offer appropriate post-injury measures to protect a student’s injury from being worsened.
In an appellate case decided this past February, the court considered a tragic situation. A student athlete suffered severe brain damage after collapsing on the field during a soccer game at school. His coach and a nurse tried to revive him with CPR. The coach later claimed he called for an AED, but nobody brought one; there had been an AED on a golf cart nearby.
The Fire Department used a defibrillator to try to revive the student, but wasn’t able to revive him. The emergency personnel successfully used medication and their defibrillator, but as a result of the delay the student suffered permanent brain damage. His parents sued the school. One of the grounds for the suit was that the school board was negligent for not keeping an automated external defibrillator (AED) near the field.
The school brought a motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff presented an expert who testified that if an AED had been provided to the coach when he asked within 1 to 2 minutes, the student wouldn’t have been brain damaged. There is actually a statutory requirement that certain schools keep an AED on hand.
The plaintiff also argued in the alternative that by acquiring an AED and training personnel to use it, the school board had undertaken the duty. In Florida, as in some other states, someone who undertakes to act even no duty exists, becomes obligated to act with reasonable care.
Nonetheless, the court concluded that the school board did not have a common law duty to diagnose or use an AED based on that statute. The trial court also concluded that even if there were such a duty, the School Board was immune because of the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act.
The appellate court explained that under current case law, a business owner has no duty to provide CPR or even maintain an AED. Moreover, it reasoned that even if a school stands in place of the parents, it did not create a duty for schools to provide medical care or rescue.
The appellate court warned that this area of law is still evolving. While there is no existing duty to use an AED specifically, there is still a duty to use appropriate post-injury efforts at school sports events and that this might include an AED in the future.
The court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument about the undertaker rule. Just because the school board had acquired an AED and trained its personnel, it did not mean that the student relied on this acquisition or training to his detriment.
After explaining a few other grounds on which the summary judgment could be granted, the court also noted that the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act immunized the school board from civil liability for using or attempting to use an AED. The court affirmed the summary judgment.
If your child has been injured at school, call the experienced South Florida personal injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank toll-free for a free consultation at (877) 448-8585.
What is Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine? South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, May 24, 2013
Florida Appellate Court Applies Slip and Fall Law Retroactively, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, May 31, 2013