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Trim v. YMCA of Central Maryland, Inc.

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

July 25, 2017

VALERIE TRIM, et al.
v.
YMCA OF CENTRAL MARYLAND, INC.

         Circuit Court for Howard County Case No. 13-C-15-103324

          Eyler, Deborah S., Arthur, Wilner, Alan M. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          Arthur, J.

         "An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a portable device that checks the heart rhythm and can send an electric shock to the heart to try to restore a normal rhythm." What is an Automated External Defibrillator?, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/aed (last viewed July 25, 2017).[1]

         "AEDs are used to treat sudden cardiac arrest, " which is "a condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating." Id. When a person suffers sudden cardiac arrest, "blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs." Id.

         Sudden cardiac arrest "usually causes death if it's not treated within minutes." Id. Consequently, "[u]sing an AED on a person who is having [sudden cardiac arrest] may save the person's life." Id.

         Maryland Code (1978, 2014 Repl. Vol.), § 13-517 of the Education Article establishes a public access program for AEDs in this State. In brief summary, the statute is designed to encourage the installation of AEDs in places of business and public accommodation, but to ensure that the devices are operable and are to be used by people who are properly trained to use them.

         This case principally concerns whether § 13-517 of the Education Article or its accompanying regulations prescribe a duty of care that requires a business to use an AED to provide cardiac defibrillation to someone who has suffered or reasonably appears to have suffered sudden cardiac arrest. We hold that they do not.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY[2]

         A. The Incident at the YMCA

         On November 12, 2014, Vincent Trim, age 53, suddenly collapsed while he was playing basketball at a YMCA in Ellicott City. Julie Heard, a YMCA fitness instructor, was near the doors to the basketball court at the time. Ms. Heard had 20 years of training and experience in administering life support and resuscitation measures, including the use of an AED.

         According to Ms. Heard, several people ran out of the court, asking someone to call 911. Ms. Heard heard that someone had fainted. Another YMCA employee heard that a person was having a seizure. Yet another employee ran to the front desk to call 911.

         Ms. Heard ran onto the court. She saw Mr. Trim lying unconscious on the floor. He had no pulse and was gasping (exhibiting "agonal breathing"), which is a potential sign of cardiac arrest. Ms. Heard began to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation ("CPR"), and she directed a bystander to go to the front desk to call 911. While she was administering CPR, another member told her that she was already calling 911. Although the YMCA had an AED that was just outside the doors of the basketball court, Ms. Heard did not retrieve it or ask anyone to retrieve it for her.

         As a result of Ms. Heard's efforts, Mr. Trim began to breathe on his own, but his breathing stopped again after a few seconds. With the assistance of another employee, Ms. Heard continued to administer CPR until the Howard County paramedics arrived, about five minutes after they were first called.

         When the paramedics entered the court, a YMCA employee heard one of them say that he needed to go back to the ambulance to retrieve his AED. The employee told the paramedic that the YMCA's AED was just outside the doors of the basketball court. The paramedic instructed the employee to retrieve the AED, which he did.

         The paramedics used the AED, but were unsuccessful in resuscitating Mr. Trim. He died a few days later as a result of a cardiac arrest and the consequent cessation of blood flow to his brain and other vital organs.

         B. Wrongful Death Action

         On April 27, 2015, Mr. Trim's widow, appellant Valerie Trim, filed a wrongful death and survival action against the YMCA. Citing the COMAR regulations that were propounded to implement § 13-517 of the Education Article, appellant principally alleged that the YMCA "had a statutory and/or regulatory duty to utilize the AED on its premises . . . after [Mr. Trim's] collapse in the gymnasium." Because it did not comply with that alleged duty, appellant alleged that the YMCA was negligent per se.[3]

         The YMCA moved to dismiss the complaint, or alternatively, for summary judgment. It advanced three grounds: (1) that § 13-517 does not impose an affirmative duty to use an AED; (2) that the statute contains an immunity provision, which shields it from liability "for any act or omission in the provision of automated external defibrillation"; and (3) that an exculpatory clause within YMCA's membership agreement, which was signed by Mr. Trim, released it from liability.

         After a hearing on April 28, 2016, the Circuit Court for Howard County granted the YMCA's motion. Appellant noted a timely appeal.

         QUESTIONS PRESENTED

         Appellant presents three issues, which we have rephrased as follows:

1. Did the circuit court err in determining that § 13-517 of the Education Article or its implementing regulations do not establish a statutory duty of care by the YMCA and its employees?
2. Did the circuit court err in determining that the YMCA and its employees were immune from civil liability under § 13-517 of the Education Article?
3. Did the circuit court err in determining that the YMCA membership agreement exculpated the YMCA and its employees from civil liability? [4]

         In response to the first question, we hold that the statute and regulations do not establish a statutory duty of care that required the administration of automated external defibrillation in the circumstances of this case. In view of our answer to the first question, it is unnecessary to address the second and third questions. We shall affirm the circuit court's judgment.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In its dispositive motion, the YMCA included materials outside of the pleading. The circuit court did not exclude those materials. Hence, the court was required to treat the motion, and did in fact treat it, as a motion for summary judgment. Md. Rule 2-322(c) ("[i]f, on a motion to dismiss for failure of the pleading to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, matters outside the pleading are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment"); see also Hrehorovich v. Harbor Hosp. Ctr., Inc., 93 Md.App. 772, 782 (1992).

         On a motion for summary judgment, the court "shall enter judgment in favor of or against the moving party if the motion and response show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the party in whose favor judgment is entered is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Md. Rule 2-501(f).

         The propriety of a grant of summary judgment is a question of law. Butler v. S & S P'ship, 435 Md. 635, 665 (2013) (citation omitted). In an appeal from the grant of summary judgment, this Court conducts a de novo review to determine whether the circuit court's conclusions ...


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