The Most Life-Saving Thing You Can Do: A Medical Device that Might Save Your Life


Sudden cardiac arrest strikes more than 300,000 people a year nationally, making it the single most common event leading to death.  Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating.  When this happens, blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs.  Cardiac arrest is caused by certain types of arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) that prevent the heart from pumping blood.

Cardiac arrest is a medical emergency. 9 out of 10 persons who go into cardiac arrest outside of a hospital die within minutes.

The main cause of cardiac arrest is ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia, which are types of arrhythmias.  Sudden cardiac arrest, when caused by an abnormal heart rhythm known as ventricular fibrillation or tachycardia, need not result in cardiac death if the heart can be shocked quickly with a defibrillator and a normal rhythm restored.

How to Recognize the Signs of Cardiac Arrest

Everyone has a role in recognizing the signs of cardiac arrest.  A person may be going into cardiac arrest if they:

  • Collapse suddenly and lose consciousness (pass out).
  • Are not breathing or their breathing is irregular and they are gasping for air.
  • Do not respond to shouting or shaking.
  • Do not have a pulse.

Cardiac arrest is a common cause of death.  Cardiac arrest caused between 300,000 and 450,000 deaths per year in the United States and half of the deaths linked to heart attack and stroke, according to the National Institute of Health.

What is an Automated External Defibrillator?

An automated external defibrillator is a medical device that is capable of recognizing the presence or absence, in a patient, of ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia.  An automated external defibrillator (“AED”) is capable of determining without intervention by a provider, whether defibrillation should be performed on a patient.  

Upon determining that defibrillation should be performed, the AED automatically charges and request delivery of an electrical impulse to the patient’s heart. Then, upon action by the operator, the AED delivers an appropriate electrical impulse to the patient’s heart to perform defibrillation.

How AEDs Save Lives

A cardiac shock is the most life-saving thing you can do. When a person has ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia, this is an opportunity to deliver an electrical shock, restore the cardiac rhythm, and get the patient to an emergency department.

The hospital mortality rate is not high for patients who go into cardiac arrest. Typically, hospitals have many defibrillators (not only AEDs) and when an abnormal heart rhythm is detected, the patient can be shocked with a defibrillator.  AEDs are more for the lay person who does not have to interpret the cardiac rhythm.

Where AEDs are Required in New York

While there is no federal law that require businesses to have AEDs, New York has extensive laws to protect persons in the event of a cardiac emergency by requiring many public places to have AEDs.  Each public building must be equipped with an on-site AED, including nurse homes, senior centers, city-owned parks, golf courses, stadiums and arenas.  New York regulates the use of AEDs through Public Health Law section 3000-b.

The Public Access Defibrillation Providers are required to post a sign at the main entrance of the building in which the AED is stored, indicating the location where such AED is stored or maintained in such building.  The general rule is that a trained operator should be able to access an AED within 3 minutes form wherever they enter the building.  

AED operators are required to successfully complete CPR/AED training classes at intervals to maintain certification.  Under New York law, “No person may operate an AED unless the person has successfully completed a training course in the operation of an AED approved by a nationally recognized organization or the state emergency medical services council….”

Schools:  Louis’ Law requires all public (k-12) and charter schools to have an AED on campus and the personnel trained in their use. Education Law section 917 requires all school districts to become Public Access Defibrillator providers in accordance with Public Health Law section 3000-b.

State Buildings: State buildings are required to have AEDs (Public Building Law section 140).

Places of Public Assembly:  AEDs are required in all stadiums, ballparks, gymnasiums, arenas and civic centers and concert halls and theaters. Public Health Law section 225.

Beaches and Pools: Beaches and pools with lifeguards are required to have an AED.

Health Clubs:  Health clubs with membership of 500 persons or more are required to have an AED and a CPR/AED certified employee on staff during business hours. (General Business Law 621-o).

Dental Offices:  New York requires all dental offices have an AED on site and all dentists shall hold CPR certification. (Education Law section 6611).  Education Law section 6611(10) requires that, “All dental facilities shall have an automated external defibrillator or other defibrillator at the facility.”

8 NYCRR section 61.10(d)(4) requires that, “A defibrillator shall be immediately accessible at each facility in which conscious sedation using a parental route with or without inhalation agents, or deep sedation, or general anesthesia is employed.”

Your Legal Rights

If a person goes into cardiac arrest while in a public facility, such as a library, school or courthouse, and the facility does not have an AED, the facility can be held responsible for their injuries or death.  This is known as “negligence per se”, meaning that the violation of a law/statute caused injury or death.

If, for example, a person goes into cardiac arrest while in a gym (that has at least 500 members), the gym must have an AED on site that publicly accessible and must have an employee certified in CPR/AED during business hours. The failure to meet these legal requirements can be basis for liability against the gym when it results in injury or death.

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