Good Samaritan Bill Signed Into Law
Chatham residents Dave and JoAnne Babbitt worked for years to get the government to pass a liability shield for those who use defibrillators to save lives.
Gov. Chris Christie signed a Good Samaritan Bill into law Thursday morning, over two months after the bill was passed by the State Senate by a vote of 37-1 and passed the Assembly unanimously 75-0.
The Good Samaritan Law absolves those trying to help save a life of responsibility if they cause injury while attempting to give aid. Until now, this protection did not extend to a person owning or using an automatic external defibrillator (AED) during a cardiac arrest.
An AED is a portable device that is used to restore heart rhythms to patients in cardiac arrest. It automatically analyzes the heart rhythm of the patient and advises the user whether or not a defibrillator is needed to return the patient to a normal heart beat.
New Jersey is now the 44th state to pass a Good Samaritan law.
Many credit the progression of the bill to feedback from the John Taylor Babbitt (JTB) Foundation, whose mission is make sure that an AED is available near all public assemblies.
The JTB Foundation was named for a Chatham resident who died of sudden cardiac arrest while playing basketball at St. Patrick Church.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, if a heart in sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is defibrillated within the first minute, there is a 90 percent chance that the patient will survive. Survival rates decrease 10 percent for every minute a person in SCA waits to be defibrillated.
Due to a lack of access to AEDs, currently only five percent of people in sudden cardiac arrest survive. Early defibrillation is the most critical step for survival.
Babbitt got involved after her foundation and like-minded civic groups ran into difficulty getting municipalities, churches and schools to accept their AED donations. "We literally couldn't give these things away," Babbitt said.
New AEDs "speak the instructions, step-by-step, and will only recommend a shock if there is no heartbeat. The person basically has to be dead," Babbitt said. "The only way you can hurt someone with this device is if you pick it up and hit them over the head with it."
Bill and Carol Nauta worked with Atlantic Health and the JTB Foundation to get AEDs installed in athletic fields and at Colony Pool and Memorial Park and Pool. "They're in the schools, in the gyms, and we just felt it was important to have them in the fields," said Carol Nauta, the deputy director of Chatham Recreation.
Nauta said the defibrillators are brought outside "when the weather breaks, usually in April" and are kept out until winter, "because they're temperature-sensitive."
The JTB Foundation, Nauta said, continues to provide training for the AEDs. "They've been wonderful to work with," she said. "If we need help or financing or anything, they do whatever they can to help us."
Bill Nauta, Chatham Borough's emergency management coordinator, said the School District of the Chathams also installed AEDs in some schools. Two more were put into the Chatham Borough Municipal Building.
The law "is going to make it clear-cut that anybody can use one of [the machines] now without fear of liability," Nauta said.