A lower-court judge had dismissed the lawsuit brought in May
2012 by relatives of Maria de Jesus Arroyo against White
Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles over the woman's 2010 death, on
grounds that the statute of limitations had lapsed.
But a three-judge panel of a state appeals court sided with the
family on Wednesday in agreeing they could not have known how
Arroyo was alleged to have died until it was brought to light by
a pathologist in an expert opinion he gave in December 2011.
"Plaintiffs had absolutely no reason to suspect that the
decedent was alive rather than dead when placed in the hospital
morgue," the court said in its 27-page opinion. The lawsuit now
goes back to Los Angeles Superior Court.
The origins of the case date to July 26, 2011, when doctors at
the hospital pronounced Arroyo dead from cardiac arrest shortly
after she was brought there by ambulance.
Employees of a funeral home chosen by the family to pick up the
woman's remains from the hospital morgue later discovered her
lying face down in a body bag half-unzipped, with bruises and
gashes to her face and a broken nose, according to the court
Informed by the mortuary of the body's condition, family members
who had seen Arroyo's face without injuries just after she was
pronounced dead assumed her corpse had been mishandled by
hospital morgue workers.
The family went on to file a negligence suit in January 2011
claiming the hospital was to blame for mutilating their loved
But Dr. William Manion, a New Jersey pathologist, retained by
the family as an expert witness reviewed medical records and
sworn statements of hospital personnel and reached a far more
He said Arroyo had been prematurely declared dead and was placed
alive in the freezer of the hospital morgue where she eventually
regained consciousness due to the extreme cold and "damaged her
face and turned herself face down as she struggled
unsuccessfully to escape her frozen tomb."
As a result, the family dropped its original lawsuit and filed a
new claim accusing the hospital of malpractice and wrongful
"It really has to be your worst nightmare to wake up like that,
the worst way to die," the family's lawyer, Scott Schutzman,
said on Thursday. "Can you imagine trying to get out of a
The hospital declined in a brief statement to comment on the
case, except to say that "we continue to disagree with the
allegations being made."
"We followed all proper protocols in the matter, and are
confident that once the facts of the case are reviewed we will
prevail in court," the statement said.
Schutzman said the family has "no choice" but to go to trial, as
"there has never been a settlement offer in this case." He said
he expects the case to reach trial within a year.
(Additional reporting by Tori Richards in Santa Ana, Calif.;
editing by Cynthia Johnston and Diane Craft)
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