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Bob Carroll
Bob Carroll
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Cardiac Death At Gym Without Defibrillator

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As a result of some recent litigation our health clubs, gyms and other exercise facilities may be safer. Among the treadmills and weights there may be a defibrillator. Why a defibrillator? Because it can save a life. Because gyms now know it should be part of their safety equipment and service.

Overlawyered feels gyms do not need defibrillators:

Gym didn’t have defibrillator
…so a Florida jury ordered it to pay $619,650 to the family of a Fort Lauderdale customer who had a heart attack. A spokesman for L.A. Fitness says it wasn’t common, let alone legally mandatory, for health clubs to stock defibrillators in 2003, when the incident occurred. (Jon Burstein, “Gym told to pay $619,650 in man’s death because it didn’t have a defibrillator”, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Mar. 30)(hat tip: Florida Masochist).

The Florida Masochist calls the lawsuit stupid:

5%

A Broward County jury has awarded over $600,000 to the family of a man who died at a Fitness Club in 2003 after having a cardiac arrest. The suit claimed LA Fitness should have had a defibrillator on the premises.

I’m sorry for the Tringali family but don’t feel LA Fitness is liable. Having a defibrillator is all well and good, but these things are not toys. I’m medically trained, but don’t know how to use one. They can kill a person as easily as save a life if not properly used.

Its also true if someone has a cardiac arrest outside the immediate care of a doctor or a hospital, that the survival rate is horrendous. The Sun-Sentinel quotes 5%, I’ve heard 5-10% myself. Mr. Tringali died for no fault of LA Fitness. It’s these types of stupid lawsuit verdicts that cost the public money. For it drives up the cost of every product or service we buy.

There is another side to this story. Read on.

Sun-Sentinel.com has a more objective report on the jury verdict:

Gym told to pay $619,650 in man’s death because it didn’t have a defibrillator

Health-club chain LA Fitness must pay $619,650 to the family of a Fort Lauderdale man who died of sudden cardiac arrest while working out at an Oakland Park gym, a Broward Circuit Court jury ordered Wednesday.

The jury needed only two hours of deliberations to find that LA Fitness’ negligence contributed to Alessio Tringali’s death. No one attempted to perform CPR on the dying 49-year-old man and the club didn’t have an automated external defibrillator that could have saved his life, argued Russell Adler, the attorney for Tringali’s family.

The case is believed to be one of the first in the country where a health club has been held liable for failing to have a defibrillator on site, Adler said.

“It is a symbolic verdict and a therapeutic verdict because it sends a loud message to the health club industry that they need to do a better job to protect their members when they have a medical emergency,” Adler said.

Adler had asked jurors to award $10 million to the Tringali family.

LA Fitness officials could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. Gene Kissane, an attorney for LA Fitness, declined to discuss the verdict.

In closing arguments, Kissane told jurors that Tringali’s death on April 3, 2003, was inevitable, comparing his heart to a time bomb. The chance of surviving a sudden cardiac attack outside a hospital is 5 percent, he said.

In addition, it wasn’t common practice at health clubs at that time to have defibrillators, he said.

Adler said LA Fitness facilities now have defibrillators.

Take a moment to reread that last sentence.

A Missouri health club death had previously raised the issue of the need for defibrillators.

Extensive excerpts from an article posted at ATLA.org (password required):

Recovery against health club for lack of defibrillator

Self v. Summit Athletic Club, Inc., Mo., Platte County Cir. Ct., No. 04CV84985, Sept. 2, 2005.

John Self joined the Summit Athletic Club hoping to use the facility to improve his health. However, the self-billed “largest and most complete” health facility in Kansas City, Missouri, failed to protect John’s life when he collapsed at the gym from arrhythmia and suffered a fatal heart attack.

John, 57, had been diagnosed with high blood pressure and coronary artery disease and was on medicine to control his diabetes. He joined the gym following his doctor’s advice to exercise as a way to reduce his high cholesterol and hypertension. But when John collapsed while working out at the health club, none of the facility’s employees attempted to resuscitate him, even though an off-duty certified personal trainer employed by the club saw him lying unconscious on the floor. Further, the facility did not have on-site an automatic external defibrillator (AED) that could have restarted his heart. John was taken to a local hospital, where he died of cardiac arrest.

John’s wife, Marsha, was referred to ATLA member John E. McKay of Kansas City, Missouri, an attorney who knew of the AED’s lifesaving benefits. McKay immediately obtained John’s medical records, reviewing them to determine whether his collapse would have been treatable if an AED had been used in time. He found that the ventricular fibrillation that caused John’s death is exactly the kind of heart condition AEDs are designed to treat.

Investigating medical technology that could have helped John, McKay discovered that in 80 to 90 percent of cases, an individual suffering an arrhythmia can be revived with the swift use of an AED.

The health club ultimately chose to avoid trial and settle for $500,000, its insurance policy limits. And although John’s family can never fully recover from their loss, McKay notes, “they are pleased that when the truth was shown, the health club was held financially accountable.”