Question: Q: Can you explain the pros and cons for a community association of having AEDs (Automated External Defibrillators) available in common areas? Some members of our board say we should absolutely purchase the equipment and could be sued if we don’t have it; others say we could be liable if the equipment malfunctions or a staff member uses it on someone who dies anyway. Who’s right?
Answer: A: Both views are correct, according to Christopher Lanni, CMCA, AMS, founder and president of Secure Residential Services, LLC and a corporate risk adviser for Barkan Management Company, Inc. “There are consequences for action and for inaction,” he explains.
You will find this potentially life-saving equipment (used to shock a heart that has ceased beating) in many residential and commercial buildings today. Owners accustomed to seeing it elsewhere may, indeed, sue the association if it’s not available in your community. But as you noted, there are also liability risks if the equipment fails or if someone fails to use it correctly.
The debate your board is having raises both philosophical and practical questions, Lanni notes. Philosophically: Does the association have a moral obligation to do what it can to save a life? Practically: Are you willing to accept the liability risks you incur by having the equipment? And how do those risks compare with the risks of not having it?
Lanni suggests that you start by consulting the association’s attorney and its insurance agent. “They can help you understand the exposures you face.”
Many boards are having this discussion today, Lanni says. Some are acquiring AEDs because they think “it’s the right thing to do,” he reports. Others are deciding that the liability risks of having the equipment trump other concerns. Your board has to decide what is best for your community. What you should not do, Lanni emphasizes, is follow “a middle-of-the-road [position] and hang AEDs on walls and forget about them.” Having the equipment, he explains, will create the expectation that it will work and that someone will know how to use it.
He offers this advice to boards that, like yours, are struggling with the AED question:
1. Document your discussion. Note the advice you got from your attorney and your insurance agent, and explain why the board decided to purchase AEDs or not to do so.
2. Install the equipment in reasonable locations, Lanni suggests – near swimming pools, in exercise rooms, in common areas —at or near the front desk if you have a lobby and in hallways.
3. Put the equipment in marked cases (so their location is obvious) wired to sound an alarm if the AEDs are removed ,to discourage theft and to alert staff or residents that someone is using the equipment or trying to steal it.
4. Provide training – required for staff members and optional for residents – to make sure there are people on site who know how to use the AEDs.
5. Have the equipment checked regularly by a qualified vendor who can certify that it is working properly.
6. Have a written policy, “as you would for any equipment you own,” Lanni says, detailing your maintenance program.
Your board shouldn’t be having the AED debate in a vacuum, Lanni says. It should be part of a much broader discussion focusing on how the association will deal with “a significant event” of any kind.
Whatever you decide about AEDs, he suggests, the association should have in place written procedures for dealing with emergencies. If someone needs medical help, what’s the protocol? Do you call 911? If it’s a gated community, does someone make sure to open the gate? Do you summon the elevator? Do you direct first responders when they arrive? “The association has a role to play – even if it’s a minor one,” Lanni says.
Determining the association’s responsibilities for AEDs and for handling emergencies of all kinds is important, Lanni says, but the decision-making process is also straightforward. “The board doesn’t have to re-invent the wheel” to make these decisions, he notes. “Just do your research, have the discussion, understand your responsibilities and your liabilities, develop written policies, and then make sure owners understand what the association is going to do, what it isn’t going to do, and why.”