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Florida Law Causes Tragedy in High School Sports

Perhaps one of the most tragic cases I have seen in over twenty years of handling children’s accidents at Florida schools is the case of Abel Limones, Jr. While playing soccer at a Lee County, Florida high school, Abel collapsed without warning. His coach and school nurse attempted CPR frantically, but an available Automated External Defibrillator (AED) sat unused close by in the end zone. After the assistant principal called 911, eventually both Emergency Medical Services and Fire Rescue arrived and delivered multiple electric shocks to his heart. Twenty-three minutes passed before he was resuscitated, which has left him permanently brain damaged. Today, Abel lives in a vegetative state requiring 24-hour care.

Limones’ family sued the School District and the School Board of Lee County Florida for negligence and for not using the AED. A brain damage injury expert testified that had the boy received defibrillation within the first two minutes; he wouldn’t have been left brain-dead. Unfortunately, Judge Kieth R. Kyle, dismissed the case. The family appealed to Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal (2nd DCA).

The appellate court sadly agreed with Judge Kyle’s decision based upon Florida’s common law, which does not require health club owners to provide CPR or maintain an AED when a customer collapses while exercising. Apparently, the Court sees no difference between a public high school’s obligation to a student and the a gym’s commercial relationship to an adult customer. The Court also ruled that “under the current state of the law, the School Board had no common law duty to make available, diagnose the need for, or use an AED on Abel.”

I disagree.

The family also argued that Florida’s Undertaker’s Doctrine should apply to Abel’s case. What the Doctrine basically means is that if someone voluntarily does something for someone they must perform it reasonably. Inexplicably, the court also disagreed with this argument by ruling that even though the School had an available AED and trained personnel it did not have to use it on Abel. Quite frankly, I cannot imagine what other use an AED could have other than to save lives. It is illogical that Florida law mandates that AEDs must be at high school soccer games to merely be used as a prop. Read the Court’s opinion.

The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA), founded in 1920m is a not for profit organization that is responsible for supervising, controlling and promoting interscholastic athletic programs. Florida Statute §1006.165(1) requires that members of the FHSAA (both of the schools in this case were in fact members) have an AED and a properly trained employee in its on school grounds at all times. The court interpreting this statute very succinctly found that the school complied with the law because it had both an AED and a trained employee at the game – but had no legal obligation to help Abel, which is ridiculous.

Florida’s Cardiac Arrest Survival Act §768.1325 is based upon Florida’s Good Samaritan Act. It provides civil immunity to “people” who try to reasonably help someone in an emergency. Florida’s Cardiac Arrest Survival Act encourages people to use AED’s to save lives without the fear of being sued if the person they are trying to save dies. The court extended this protection to the School even though it never even used the device.

This ruling is extremely dangerous to all of Florida’s students—most especially those who are involved in accidents that result in a brain injury. We cannot allow our public schools to avoid legal responsibility for not even attempting to use a defibrillator. I do not believe that Florida’s Good Samaritan Act or the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act should be used as a shield for public schools or any business when it possess an available defibrillator that can save a child’s life.

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