Tennessee Court Considers Duties of Sellers and Purchasers of Defibrillator Devices

In recent years, more and more public spaces have begun to carry automated external defibrillators, also known as AEDs. These devices allow individuals to respond quickly to instances of cardiac arrest or other heart-related emergencies. AEDs do require training in order to be used effectively, and many of the distributors of AEDs now offer training in conjunction with the purchase of the devices so that they can be used safely. A recent case before the Tennessee Supreme Court considers the obligations and duties placed upon sellers and purchasers of AEDs when employees and individuals are not trained on how to safely use them.

In Wallis v. Brainerd Baptist Church, Ms. Wallis sued Brainerd Church for wrongful death after her husband died while working out at a gym owned by the Church. Several years before, Brainerd Church purchased several AED devices from a distributor known as ExtendLife, Inc. In conjunction with the purchase of the devices, Brainerd Church also purchased the “Annual Physician Oversight Program Management,” which gave the church access to training programs so that its employees could learn how to use the AEDs, as well as consultation, monitoring, and support. Brained Church, with ExtendLife’s assistance, held several classes to train members and employees on how to use the AEDs. In 2011, Mr. Willis was participating in a cycling class at Brainerd’s exercise facility when he collapsed. The cycling instructor at the time was trained in how to use an AED but believed Mr. Wallis was suffering from a stroke, rather than a heart-related event, and did not use the AED. Several other bystanders brought the AED over and called 9-1-1, but ultimately they did not use the device. By the time emergency personnel arrived, Mr. Wallis was dead.

Ms. Wallis sued Brainerd Church for negligence and negligence per se, arguing that Tennessee’s AED statutes required Brainerd Church to maintain employees qualified to use AEDs. Ms. Wallis also later filed a third-party complaint against ExtendLife, Inc., arguing that it breached its contract with Brainerd Church, and Mr. Wallis was a third-party beneficiary of such a contract. ExtendLife, Inc., moved for summary judgment against Ms. Wallis. It argued that it did not owe a duty to Mr. Wallis, Brainerd Church had no statutory or common law obligation to acquire or use an AED with Mr. Willis, and it did not breach its contract with Brainerd Church. The trial court denied the motion for summary judgment, finding that there were issues of fact in dispute. However, it granted ExtendLife an interlocutory appeal, which was heard by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

The Tennessee Supreme Court first addressed the question of whether Mr. Wallis was a third-party beneficiary of any contract ExtendLife had with Brainerd Church. In this case, the contract did not explicitly designate Mr. Wallis as such a beneficiary. Moreover, the court found that nothing in the contract made clear that ExtendLife was undertaking a duty to individuals such as Mr. Wallis, since no mention was made regarding duties to victims who might benefit from an AED. Accordingly, the Supreme Court determined Mr. Wallis was not a third-party beneficiary and could not recover on the breach of contract claim. Next, the court looked at whether ExtendLife or Brainerd Church had duties to Mr. Wallis under Tennessee’s AED statutes. It noted that while the statutes encouraged Tennessee businesses to have AEDs on their premises, it did not require them to do so and did not institute any punishment for a failure to do so. Accordingly, the Supreme Court held that the statutes did not create a private cause of action for those who had but did not correctly use an AED.

Finally, the Supreme Court turned to the question of whether Brainerd Church had a common law duty to ensure an AED on its premises was used and used properly. In evaluating this claim, the court acknowledged that businesses and their patrons have a special relationship, and businesses should aid patrons who fall ill or are injured. However, it determined that businesses have no obligation to provide all types of foreseeable medical care. Importantly, it held that no Tennessee court had ever required a business to acquire and use an AED for the benefit of patrons. Accordingly, the Supreme Court determined that Mr. Wallis was not a beneficiary of a contract between ExtendLife and Brainerd Church, nor was he owed a common law duty involving ExtendLife, and, accordingly, ExtendLife’s motion for summary judgment should have been granted. It reversed and remanded the decision back to the trial court.

If you are a plaintiff who has been injured as a result of a a business’ failure to correctly administer aid when you fell ill, it is important that you speak with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Experienced Tennessee personal injury attorney Eric Beasley can help you evaluate whether you may have a claim based on the business’ duty to you, as well as any existing contractual claims. For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

The Duty of Reasonable Care in Tennessee When Assisting Others With Dangerous Activities, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, November 9, 2016.

Tennessee Courts Consider When a Party Can Be Held Liable for an Agent’s Negligence, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, October 12, 2016.

Do Curbs For Wheelchair Ramps Constitute Dangerous Conditions In Tennessee?, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, January 27, 2016.

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