Michael Verdugo and Anor v Target Corporation (2014) H&FLR 2014-59

United States Court of Appeal (Ninth Circuit)

28 October 2014

Coram: Pregerson, Graber and Berzon JJ.

Appearing for the Plaintiff: Robert A Roth (of Tarkington, O’Neill, Barrack & Chong) and David G Eisenstein (of Law Offices of David G Eisenstein)
Appearing for the Defendant: Ryan Moore Craig and Benjamin R Trachtman (of Trachtman & Trachtman) and Richard Caldarone and Donald Falk (of Mayer Brown).

Catchwords: California – cardiac arrest in store – AED not available – negligence – duty of care – claim dismissed – moral obligation.

Facts:  On 31 August 2008 one Mary Verdugo (the deceased), aged 49 years, suffered a cardiac arrest at the Target store in Pico Rivera.  There was no automated external defibrillator (AED) in the store.  Paramedics were called and attended within minutes.  They were unable to revive the deceased.

The deceased’s mother and brother issued proceedings in the Los Angeles County Superior Court against the defendant on the basis that it been negligent in not having an AED available for use in an emergency.  On the defendant’s application the matter was transferred to the Federal District Court, which then granted the defendant’s application to dismiss the matter on the basis that Target was not obliged to make an AED available for use by customers.  The plaintiff appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which referred a question of law to the Supreme Court of California: Verdugo v Target Corp., 704 F.3d 1044 (9th Cir., 2012).  The referred question was expressed as follows –

“Whether, under California law, the common law duty of reasonable care that defendant Target Corporation … owes to its business customers includes an obligation to obtain and make available on its business premises an … AED … for use in a medical emergency”.

The Supreme Court of California responded that the defendant’s common law duty of care to its cutomers did not include a duty to acquire and make available an AED for use in a medical emergency: Verdugo v Target Corp., (2014) H&FLR 2014-55; 59 Cal.4th 312 (2014).

Held: Per curiam, dismissing the appeal, that the District Court’s decision that Target did not have a relevant common law duty of care was consistent with the Supreme Court’s statement of Californian law and so the decision was affirmed.

Per Pregerson J, obiter, that stores like Target have a moral obligation to provide AEDs for use in a medical emergency.  If that moral obligation is not recognised by the stores, it would be appropriate for the matter to be considered by the legislature.


The Court’s judgment is available here.