Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Rink Operator Not Liable in Death of Hockey Player—Court
Divided Appellate Panel Says Defendant Had No Duty to Publicize Location of Defibrillator
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A building owner or manager has no duty to inform visitors of the location of an automatic external defibrillator at the facility, the Sixth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
A divided panel Thursday affirmed Santa Clara Superior Court Judge William Elfving’s dismissal of an action by the parents of Nicholas Rotolo, a 17-year-old amateur ice hockey player who died as a result of sudden cardiac arrest during a game. The plaintiffs sued the operators of Logitech Ice, a facility owned by the City of San Jose but managed by the owners of the San Jose Sharks pro hockey team, which also uses the facility.
Their complaint alleged that the teenager might have survived if the defendants, who has acquired a defibrillator and stored it on the premises, had informed users of the facility where it was located.
But Justice Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the trial judge was correct in ruling that the only duty the defendants had was to summon emergency services, which they did as soon as Nicholas collapsed.
The justice explained that the Legislature has enacted a series of statutes governing the public use of the devices, known as AEDs. The laws establish standards, including requirements that at least one employee be trained to use the devices and that tenants—but not visitors or invitees—be told of their location, and provides that the building owner and managers, as well as the person operating the device, are immune from liability as long as the standards are complied with.
The legislation expressly states that there is no requirement that AEDs be acquired or used.
The plaintiffs acknowledged that the defendants were not obligated to have an AED on hand, but argued that since they had one, their special relationship with users of the facility required them to make it known where the device was.
Bamattre-Manoukian disagreed, distinguishing cases in which the “special relationship” concept has been applied to impose a duty on the owner or manager of premises to prevent criminal attacks or to intervene once an attack has begun. The justice reasoned that the defendants, as operators of a venue for participation in sports, do not have the same type of heightened duty as bar proprietors, common carriers, or school districts, the defendants in the cases cited by the plaintiffs.
Justice Wendy Duffy concurred, but Justice Richard McAdams dissented.
Foreseeability of Harm
McAdams agreed that there is no specific duty on the part of a facility operator to inform users as to the location of emergency devices, but said there was a duty to formulate a plan to respond to foreseeable emergencies, and that the defendants may have breached it.
“This case involves a business entity that invites patrons to use its facilities for an activity known to have a high risk of injury — ice hockey — yet fails to have an emergency response plan in place in the event of injury and fails to inform those engaged in or supervising such high-risk activity of an emergency plan or the availability of emergency equipment in the event of injury,” he wrote.
The foreseeability of harm, the fact that the defendants derive commercial benefit from the activity, and the minimal burden involved support imposition of a duty as a matter of policy, the dissenting justice argued.
The case is Rotolo v. San Jose Sports and Entertainment, LLC, 07 S.O.S. 2768.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company