Maria de Jesus Arroyo, an 80-year-old married mother of eight, was prematurely declared dead and woke up in a hospital’s freezer and “struggled unsuccessfully to escape her frozen tomb” before dying, according to Los Angeles court documents.
Arroyo had suffered a heart attack on July 26, 2010 and a doctor at Boyle Heights’ White Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles declared her dead. However, the body was allegedly presented to the family extremely disfigured with a broken nose and scars on her face so severe a mortuary wasn’t able to mask their appearance.
“I sued for mishandling,” attorney Scott Schutzman told the Daily News.
The hospital in turn, he said, “filed a motion to get out of the case saying there are red fleshy substances [in her wounds] … therefore she must have been alive,” he said of the approximated timing of her injuries.
Schutzman said he immediately consulted his own expert to verify their claims and to his horror, learned that their review concluded the same, “She was placed in the body bag while she was alive,” he said.
“Shock is not the word,” he said of his own reaction. “I was horrified.”
The expert, cited in court documents appealing a lawsuit filed by the family, concluded that “the decedent ‘had been prematurely declared dead’ by Dr. John Plosay and the Hospital staff, ‘frozen alive’ in the Hospital’s freezer, ‘eventually woke up’ due to the extreme cold, and ‘damaged her face and turned herself face down as she struggled unsuccessfully to escape her frozen tomb.'”
Schutzman, in turn, withdrew his original lawsuit against the hospital for mishandling and filed a second for mistakenly declaring her dead and freezing her while still alive. However, this occurred nearly 17 months since Arroyo’s 2010 death and attorneys for the hospital defended that a one-year statute of limitations had long expired for the case.
A trial judge agreed and dismissed the family’s suit filed in May 2012 before it was taken to the 2nd District Court of Appeal.
On Wednesday, in a decision called “gratifying” by Arroyo’s family, the trial judge’s decision was overturned which then allowed the family to continue their pursuit in future legal action against the hospital.
As far as damages they intend to seek, Schutzman said they are limited to $250,000 due to the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, but hopes that will change.
“It’s the most egregious of cases and they’re limited to $250,000,” he stressed. “My intention was to get the family justice.”