The family of a woman who may have been prematurely declared dead, awoke in the hospital's freezer and struggled before ultimately freezing to death can go forward with a lawsuit against the hospital, an appellate court has ruled.
Maria de Jesus Arroyo, 80, was pronounced dead in July 2010 at White Memorial Medical Center in Boyle Heights after suffering a heart attack. When morticians received her body a few days later, they found her body facedown, with her nose broken and cuts and bruises to her face, injuries so severe they could not be covered up by make-up, according to court papers.
Arroyo's husband and eight children initially sued the hospital alleging the body had been mishandled after her death. But during litigation, a pathologist who reviewed Arroyo's injuries concluded the injuries most likely occurred while she was still alive – that she had been "frozen alive," "eventually woke up" and "damaged her face and turned herself face down as she struggled unsuccessfully to escape her frozen tomb," according court records.
The family's attorney, Scott Schutzman, withdrew the mishandling lawsuit and refiled a second case in May 2012 alleging the hospital had mistakenly declared her dead and frozen her while she was still living. A Los Angeles trial judge threw out that lawsuit, siding with the hospital's attorneys that the second suit was filed too late, beyond the one-year statute of limitations after the family discovered Arroyo's injuries.
The hospital has not addressed the allegation that Arroyo was prematurely declared dead, according to court records.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal on Wednesday overturned the trial judge and revived the medical malpractice suit, finding that the family could not have known Arroyo may have been prematurely declared deceased and frozen alive until the pathologist gave his expert opinion, in December 2011.
"Plaintiffs had absolutely no reason to suspect that the decedent was alive rather than dead when placed in the Hospital morgue and when the disfiguring injuries occurred," the appellate justices wrote in their opinion.
The case now returns to Los Angeles County Superior Court for further proceedings.
A representative for White Memorial could not immediately be reached for comment.