Eighty-year-old heart-attack patient Maria de Jesus Arroyo might not have been dead when Dr. John J. Posay III made the pronouncement at White Memorial Medical Center in Los Angeles on July 26, 2010, but she was definitely deceased after being locked in the icy cold morgue for a few days.
Lawyers for Arroyo's family didn't know that when they sued the hospital over very obvious facial injuries suffered by the woman, which they assumed happened during handling of the body. Arroyo was found face down in the morgue by employees of the mortuary when they came to get her.
“The decedent's nose was broken and her face had suffered lacerations and contusions—injuries that had not been present when she arrived at the Hospital or when the body was viewed by relatives after the declaration of death,” according to the court.
In mid-case, testimony by a pathologist indicated that she sustained the injuries while still alive and hurt herself in a desperate effort to avoid her frozen fate.
The lawyer, Scott Schutzman, trashed the lawsuit and filed a new one for medical negligence and wrongful death in May 2012. But Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled that the one-year statute of limitations had run out, based on Arroyo's date of death, and tossed the suit.
The Second District Court of Appeal disagreed and said the clock didn't start ticking until the new information became known during the trial. The three-judge panel returned the case to the trial court on Wednesday for adjudication.
The Arroyo lawsuit alternately alleges that the victim suffered her injuries while being mishandled at the morgue by employees or were self-inflicted when she found herself in a “frozen tomb.”