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Ask an Expert: Should our building install a defibrillator in the lobby?

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Q.  A doctor on our co-op board wants our building to install a defibrillator in the lobby and give the staff CPR and other life-saving training.  Have other co-ops or condos done this and what are the things we should consider? For example, could it lead to lawsuits if someone is hurt or, God forbid, dies?

A.    All good questions, say our Experts, and all questions other boards have wrestled with before yours. Some have chosen not to proceed after evaluating the ongoing obligations and potential legal liabilities.

“If a board decides to install a defibrillator, it will also need to consider who should be trained in the use of the equipment, what expectations the building residents have about the use of the equipment, and how the equipment must be maintained, which could require maintaining a proper power source, back up power source and conducting periodic tests,” says real estate lawyer Jeffrey Reich

As for legal liability if something goes wrong, New York’s Good Samaritan Law offers protection except in cases of gross negligence, says real estate lawyer Stuart Saft.  

“Accordingly, the board would have no liability unless the person using the defibrillator was guilty of gross negligence, which is very difficult to do with the current generation of defibrillators, which are really automatic,” says Saft.  “Nevertheless, the board should confirm with its liability insurance carrier that it would be protected in the event of gross negligence.”

Real estate lawyer Eric Goidel concurs that these days, it’s harder than ever to misuse a defibrillator.

“In the past,” says Goidel, “the biggest problem was using the device when it was contraindicated. Technology has now developed to the point where the device will not fire unless the resident in need of assistance is actually in need of the shock.”

(That should reassure the condo board member who told us, “Our doormen sometimes have problems getting me my Fresh Direct delivery.  I don’t want them anywhere near a defibrillator.”)

Reich raises the possibility of another type of legal liability however.

“The installation of a defibrillator may cause building residents to infer that members of the board or staff have been properly trained in the use of the equipment and may create a level of reliance and expectation that could, if not the case, result in potential liability,” he says.

So is it worth the risk, however slight? Property manager Thomas Usztoke thinks so.

“Anything can lead to a lawsuit, but a trained staff member saving a life by using a defib—that’s priceless.”  He recommends contacting the American Red Cross of New York. “They have an excellent defib program set up in many buildings.”

From a resale perspective, having a defibrillator could enhance marketability in buildings with older clientele, says Roberta Axelrod, a real estate sales director.

“I personally bought in a condo that has one in the recreational area, and was very impressed that the condo had the forethought to install one,” she says.

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