10373593623_0f57221641_zOn April 2, 2015, the Florida Supreme Court quashed the Second District Court of Appeal’s decision in Limones v. School District of Lee County, 111 So. 3d 901 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013), and held that the school district owed a common law duty to supervise a student athlete who collapsed during a high school soccer game and that, once injured, the school district owed the student a duty to take reasonable measures and come to his aid to prevent aggravation of his injury.  To read the opinion, click here.

This case arises from the collapse of a high school athlete, Abel Limones, on the field during a soccer game.  When Abel stopped breathing and had no pulse, his coach and a nurse bystander performed CPR, but Abel was not resuscitated until emergency personnel arrived and used an automated external defibrillator (AED).  Abel suffered severe and permanent brain damage and his parents sued the school district, alleging that it was negligent in failing to maintain an AED on or near the soccer field, in failing to make it available for use, and in failing to actually use an AED on Abel.  The trial court determined the school district did not have a duty to make available, diagnose the need for, or use an AED and that, even if it did, the school district was statutorily immune from liability.

On appeal, the Second District affirmed the trial court’s decision, noting that while Florida courts had not addressed a school district’s duties in this context, the Fourth District in L.A. Fitness v. Mayer concluded that a business owner does not have a common law duty to provide CPR or maintain or use an AED when a business invitee collapses while exercising at the owner’s facility.  The Second District therefore determined that neither the undertaker’s doctrine nor section 1006.165, Florida Statutes, imposed a duty to use an AED on Abel and found that the school district was immune from civil liability under section 768.1325(3), Florida Statutes (2008).

The Florida Supreme Court, however, rejected L.A. Fitness as controlling, finding that the adult customer and the health club stand in a far different relationship than a student and a school district. Florida has mandated the education of minor children, which creates a unique relationship and which triggers a common law duty to supervise and aid students.  Furthermore, the Florida legislature has specifically mandated that high schools that participate in interscholastic athletics acquire an AED and train appropriate personnel in its use.

The Court also found that the Second District incorrectly invaded the province of the jury when it considered whether a post injury effort required the school district to make available, diagnose the need for it, or use the AED on Abel. Florida courts have recognized a special relationship between schools and their students based upon the fact that school functions at least partially in the place of parents during the school day and school sponsored activities.  This duty to supervise requires teachers and other school employees to act with reasonable care under the circumstances. Therefore, it is for the jury to determine whether, under the relevant circumstances, the school employee has acted unreasonably, and therefore, breached the duty owed.

Lower courts in Florida have recognized that the duty of supervision creates the following specific duties owed to student athletes:  1) schools must adequately instruct student athletes; 2) schools must provide proper equipment; 3) schools must reasonably match participants; 4) schools must adequately supervise athletic events; and 5) schools must take appropriate measures after a student is injured to prevent aggravation of the injury.

In this case, Abel was a student who was injured while he participated in a school sponsored soccer game under the supervision of school officials.  Therefore, the school district owed Abel a duty of supervision and to act with reasonable care under the circumstances; specifically, the school district owed Abel a duty to take appropriate post injury efforts to avoid or mitigate further aggravation of his injury.

Having concluded that the school district owed Abel a common law duty, the Court then looked to whether the school district was immune from suit under Florida Statutes § 768.1325.  Known as the “Cardiac Arrest Survival Act,” this statute provides that “any person who uses or attempts to use an [AED] on a victim of a perceived medical emergency … is immune from civil liability for any harm resulting from the use or attempted use of such device” and that “any person who acquired the device and makes it available for use … is immune from such liability.”  The Court held that this statute creates two classes of parties that may be immune from liability arising from the misuse of an AED:  users (actual or attempted) and acquirers.  However, acquirers are only entitled to immunity if an AED is actually used or attempted to be used.  Because an AED was not used or attempted to be used in this case, the Court found that the school district was not entitled to immunity under § 768.1325.   The Court quashed the decision of the Second District granting summary final judgment in favor of the school district.

Justice Canady wrote a dissenting opinion in which he stated that the Court did not have jurisdiction to review the case.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Faungg’s Photos (no changes).