Lodi Unified officials will soon decide whether to keep automated external defibrillators on its school campuses in light of a recently settled lawsuit.
In February, Lodi Unified paid $400,000 to settle the lawsuit filed by a former student who was resuscitated after suffering cardiac arrest during physical education class.
The agreement included no admission of liability by the district, although student Adam Kloose's attorney, R.J. Waldsmith has said an expired battery inside the machine caused it to malfunction.
While attending Lodi High in 2005, Kloose collapsed before a game of dodge ball. Teachers performed CPR and used the hand-held defibrillator, which emits an electric shock to revive a stopped heart.
The student was resuscitated by paramedics with their own defibrillator and taken to the hospital where it was ultimately determined he suffered a brain injury.
Because of the lawsuit fallout, the district's chief business official, Doug Barge, will ask school board trustees if they want to keep the devices available. Schools are not required to have them on site; doing so may create a liability.
"The board is going to have to make a decision," Barge said, adding that he hopes to take the proposal to remove the devices to the next meeting April 7.
"They made the decision (to have them), and they need to decide whether it's something they still want to have knowing there's a risk and liability. I know what I would do, but the board made the decision to have them."
The same liability issue came up shortly after the Kloose accident when the district weighed putting defibrillators on more of its campuses.
At the time, then-Superintendent Bill Huyett said many neighboring districts were reluctant to install automated external defibrillators (AEDs) because they were unsure of the reliability of the product.
Galt Joint Union High School District does not have any on its campuses, according to Superintendent Tom Gemma. He added that because of the state budget crisis, he doesn't foresee purchasing them anytime soon.
"We have not had an opportunity to discuss it, and with the state economic crisis I don't believe we will be have this discussion for this year."
Since becoming superintendent in 2005, placing defibrillators at the two high schools has never been discussed, Gemma added.
In Stockton Unified, however, the decision not to purchase the hand-held devices was made years ago, according to chief of staff Matthew George, and had more to do with where its schools are located than with the initial cost or potential liability.
"The response time for emergency medical services is the same or less than the time it would take to get a defibrillator up, charged and working," he said of typical four-minutes-or-less response time for paramedics to arrive on scene within Stockton.
Besides, he added that the average $1,500 to $2,000 price tag is cost prohibitive in this time of teach layoffs and school closures.
"(Purchasing them) is something we looked at. Because we are an urban area, when you have experts on campus quickly, it's better than someone not skilled using the device."
Studies have shown that immediate CPR and quick access to an AED can increase survival rates to as high as 30 to 50 percent, according to a recent article published by the California Teachers Association.
For that reason, national organizations are pushing to increase public awareness of the need for AEDs on school campuses.
Lodi Unified first starting placing the machines on its campuses with swimming pools at least seven years ago.
And, in December 2006, the district accepted seven new AEDs donated by the Lodi Memorial Foundation and American Medical Response. Barge said there are currently between four and seven still on district sites.
Both the Adult Day Care Center at Hutchins Street Square and the LOEL Center also have received defibrillators.
Waldsmith, the attorney, finds it disturbing that Lodi Unified would consider removing these safety devices from the schools.
"State law provides an immunity from civil liability to any person or entity that acquires an AED for emergency use and renders emergency care as long as the AED is properly maintained, including checking it for readiness at least every 30 days, among a few other requirements," he said in an e-mail Monday.
"This is not an onerous burden. Fire extinguishers require periodic inspections to make sure they work. Is the district also looking into getting rid of its fire extinguishers because it does not want to regularly inspect those safety devices?"
In 2005, state legislators passed a law urging all public California schools to have automated external defibrillators available to all grade levels. Former Assemblyman Alan Nakanishi was instrumental in legislation that decreases the liability risk for schools that carry the life-saving machines.
In the end, Waldsmith feels the problem lies not with having the AEDs, but with the management of the district.
"The focus should be on how the district's employees can do their jobs, not on lawyers and lawsuits. Had Lodi Unified School District simply complied with the minimum maintenance requirements of the one AED at Lodi High School … the district would have been immune from liability. The device also would have been operable, which is the ultimate goal.
"The small cost of maintaining the AEDs is worth every cent when a device is needed to save the life of a student, a teacher, a parent, a district employee, or even a lawyer."
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.