Improper Training on Use of AEDs in Fitness Center Leads to Cardiac Death

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AEDs may be hanging on the wall, but whether they are used, or if staff knows how to use them, leads to an important case resolution against the City of Aiken and First Response Training.

In a recent case settlement for just under one million dollars, the Estate of Douglas D. Wilhelm vs. City of Aiken and First Response Safety Training Inc. was found in favor of the plaintiff, a gentleman who collapsed of an apparent heart attack while playing racquetball in August of 2011 at the City of Aiken's W.O. Weeks Center. Prior to this incident, First Response Training had been hired and paid by the City of Aiken to provide first aid, CPR and/or AED (Automated External Defibrillator) training, education, and certification for the Weeks Center staff, including those who were working at the Weeks Center the day of the victim's collapse.

During the course of the racquetball game, Wilhelm collapsed on the floor and experienced trouble breathing. Friends notified staff members and 911 was called. Wilhelm, who was breathing abnormally, was unresponsive when one of the staff members arrived at the racquetball court with a first aid kit and the Automated External Defibrillator, but it was not used until EMS arrived nine to 10 minutes later. While Wilhelm lay unresponsive and helpless, he experienced a substantial amount of time without adequate oxygen perfusion to his brain and, as a consequence, suffered massive and severe brain injuries. As a tragic result of this incident, this husband and father, an avid racquetball player and golfer, died at the age of 56 on September 26, 2011.

Subsequently, the family, represented by Clore Law Group, filed a suit against City of Aiken and First Response Safety Training, Inc.

The suit noted that the Weeks Center employees were not properly trained by First Response. It was also discovered that the City's training manuals were not current with American Health Association (AHA) standards of care. There was even a written record of one employee asking for more training. The plaintiff alleged that prompt use of the AED, which comes with instructions and is simple to use, could have saved Wilhelm's life.

After discovery, the suit was settled by the City of Aiken for $950,000, and importantly, the family of the deceased requested that the following stipulations be put into the agreement as a means of ensuring that others do not unnecessarily suffer the same unfortunate circumstances.

The City of Aiken was required to provide CPR and First Aid training to all city employees in a manner consistent with current AHA standards. It was also stipulated that the city would provide AED training in accordance with current AED standards to all parks and recreation employees working in facilities with an AED machine. Further, it was required that recommendations be made to conform the City's AED training and policies to those currently recommended by the AHA and that the City would purchase current training materials issued by the AHA for use in training City personnel by a certified AHA trainer.

Patrons of health clubs and other facilities where these devices are present would be wise to check to be sure staff is trained in the use of the AED, and if they aren't, advise them of the potential liability evidenced in this and similar cases. There is serious personal and financial impact to the individuals and families victimized when the facilities and their team members are not properly trained to use the equipment necessary to save lives. In this and other cases, the device is not wall decoration, and should be properly put to use for the welfare of patrons and the business owners too.

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