Woman Mistakenly Declared Dead Died Trying To Escape Morgue Freezer, Lawsuit Alleges

Woman Who Wasn't Dead Died Trying To Escape Morgue Freezer, Lawsuit Alleges

A California family who claims a loved one was prematurely declared dead, and then "frozen alive" while trying to escape a morgue freezer, has filed a lawsuit against the hospital.

According to the lawsuit, Maria de Jesus Arroyo, 80, suffered a heart attack on July 26, 2010, and was pronounced dead by a doctor at White Memorial Medical Center in Boyle Heights, Calif. Arroyo's body was laid out so that her family could pay their respects before it was taken to the hospital’s morgue, where it was placed inside a refrigerated compartment, pending pickup by a mortician.

It was during Arroyo's time in the refrigerated compartment, the lawsuit alleges, that something -- which under different circumstances might have been viewed as a miracle -- turned into a nightmare.

"She was put into that body bag while she was alive," the family's attorney, Scott Schutzman, alleged to The Huffington Post. "The cold from the hospital morgue woke her up, and she was fighting her way out when she died."

When morticians later received Arroyo's body from the morgue, the lawsuit claims, they found her facedown rather than faceup. Her nose was broken, and she had cuts and bruises to her face, according to the court papers.

Arroyo's family initially attributed the injuries to mishandling of her remains. The injuries were so severe, the lawsuit alleges, that the mortuary was unable to mask them. As a result, the family filed a suit accusing the hospital of negligence.

A medical expert hired by Schutzman later reviewed depositions and declarations by hospital staff, which led him to surmise that Arroyo had received her injuries pre-mortem and was "frozen alive" in the hospital morgue.

"She must of got the wounds while she was fighting, while she was on her way out, and that's why they found her upside down," Schutzman said.

Following the expert's review, Schutzman withdrew the negligence lawsuit and filed the current case, alleging wrongful death.

"Even if we win, it's bittersweet because they relive this whole thing," Schutzman said of the suit filed on behalf of Arroyo's husband and their eight children.

White Memorial Medical Center has denied any wrongdoing in the case.

"We followed all proper protocols in this matter and are confident that once the facts of the case are reviewed, we will prevail in court," hospital officials said in a statement.


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