Brought Back from the Dead: Planning for Overdoses and Heart Attacks

August 8, 2019 | Jason Rivait

A June 2019 Government of Canada report describes a disturbing trend of rising opioid-related deaths in Canada, a situation it called an opioid crisis.

High-rise condominiums face unique challenges when planning for medical emergencies such as overdoses and heart attacks. With long elevator wait times, first responders may not have sufficient time to reach residents.  This puts condominium corporations in the difficult position of balancing competing moral and legal realities.

There is likely no legal obligation for condominium corporations to keep or administer defibrillators for heart attacks or naloxone for overdoses. However, in the event condominium corporations wish to do so, what should their role be in providing aid in these emergency situations? What is the risk of liability if something goes wrong?

1. Defibrillators

Automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, are medical devices that automatically diagnose and treat cardiac arrests through an electrical shock. A growing number of locations in and around Toronto install AEDs for the benefit of the general public.

Device Overview

  • Status: The devices are widely available and can be purchased without special permission. However, a defibrillator may only be administered by a regulated health professional or by others in an emergency.
  • Safety and Usability: AEDs are safe and easy to use. They are designed in a way to prevent harm and do not require special training.

Liability

  • Installing on Premises: The Heart Defibrillator Civil Liability Act can protect owners or occupiers when they install an AED for general use. In that case, the AED must be made available in good faith and properly maintained. However, there will be no protection against liability for injury resulting from gross negligence.
  • Administering: Both the Heart Defibrillator Civil Liability Act and the Good Samaritan Act offer overlapping protection for individuals when administering an AED in an emergency. The individual must provide aid voluntarily and in good faith without reasonable expectation of compensation or reward. These statutes do not apply if the individual’s gross negligence caused the injuries.

Condominium corporations installing or administering AEDs can likely protect themselves from personal liability for conduct falling short of gross negligence if they:

  • properly maintain the device according to its operator’s manual;
  • exercise good faith when making available or administering the device;
  • provide aid voluntarily and without reasonable expectation of compensation or reward; and
  • administer the AED in an emergency situation involving a person who is ill, injured or unconscious.

2. Naloxone/Narcan

Naloxone, also sold under the trade name Narcan, is a life-saving drug capable of treating certain overdoses by blocking the effects of opioids. The drug is available as either an injection or a nasal spray.

Drug Overview

  • Status: Since 2016, naloxone has been classified as a Schedule II drug. It can be purchased without a prescription at Ontario pharmacies, provided it is intended for emergency use for opioid overdose outside of a hospital setting.
  • Safety and Usability: Naloxone is relatively safe, even when mistakenly administered to someone not overdosing. The drug has no dependency risk. However, it may cause allergic reactions. The nasal spray version is particularly easy to administer safely without the need for injection.

Liability

  • Storing on Premises: Unlike with defibrillators, there is no specific statutory scheme protecting owners and occupiers from liability when making naloxone available on their premises for public use. However, the Good Samaritan Act may offer liability protection for conduct falling short of gross negligence if the condominium corporation only provides naloxone contemporaneously with and at the immediate scene of the emergency. To be prudent, the drug should be stored securely away from residents and guests when not needed.
  • Administering: The Good Samaritan Act provides some statutory liability protection to individuals for administering naloxone in an emergency situation, unless they caused injury due to gross negligence. The individual must provide aid voluntarily and in good faith without reasonable expectation of compensation or reward.

Condominium corporations wishing to carry or administer naloxone may protect themselves from personal liability for conduct falling short of gross negligence if they:

  • carry the nasal spray form of naloxone;
  • store and maintain the drug securely and according to the instructions;
  • provide aid voluntarily and without reasonable expectation of compensation or reward; and
  • administer or provide the drug only:

(i) in an emergency situation involving a person who is ill, injured or unconscious, and
(ii) at the immediate scene of the emergency.

Next Steps

In the event a condominium corporation wishes to acquire a defibrillator or naloxone, we suggest contacting your legal counsel and insurer.

Special thanks to Jeremie Lachance who assisted with the preparation of this article.

Disclaimer

This publication is provided as an information service and may include items reported from other sources. We do not warrant its accuracy. This information is not meant as legal opinion or advice.

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