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Woman Froze To Death In Morgue After Being Declared Dead Too Soon, Suit Says

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Family members of a woman have filed a lawsuit against a Boyle Heights hospital alleging that she spent her final moments freezing to death in a morgue after mistakenly being declared dead.

Maria de Jesus Arroyo, 80, was rushed to White Memorial Medical Center when she was found unconscious at home on July 25, 2010, according to the Los Angeles Times. The hospital pronounced her dead and her children and husband said their goodbyes. Nothing seemed awry until the next time her family saw her. They noticed she had new injuries: her nose had been broken and her face was covered in cuts and bruises so bad the mortician couldn't cover them up.

Initially, the family filed a lawsuit alleging that her body had been mishandled. But during litigation one expert who examined the injuries said that they couldn't have occurred after her death. New Jersey pathologist William Manion wrote in a court declaration, "There is only one apparent explanation: Mrs. Arroyo was alive when she was placed into a refrigerated unit within Defendant's morgue." Manion wrote that being placed in a freezer "certainly caused Mrs. Arroyo terror and great suffering in her final minutes." There were other reasons to believe that Arroyo wasn't dead when she was sent to the freezing morgue. The mortuary noted that when Arroyo's body arrived, she was face down and the bag had been half-unzipped.

The family's attorney Scott Schutzman filed a new medical malpractice suit alleging that the hospital mistakenly declared Arroyo dead. A trial court threw the case out saying that it was too late because of the statute of limitations. However, a California appellate court ruled that the suit being brought by Arroyo's husband and her eight children can go forward, since the family could not have realized that the case was even more serious until they heard the pathologist's opinion.

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Richard J. Ryan, an attorney for the hospital told the Times, "In my opinion and based upon our thorough investigation, the allegations of the Arroyo family will not be proven."