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Woman dies in hospital freezer, lawsuit alleges

An appeals court allows a lawsuit to proceed that alleges a woman froze to death after being prematurely declared dead.
April 3, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
The family of an elderly woman claims she was put in a freezer at the hospital morgue while she was still alive. They're taking legal action against the hospital.

Maria de Jesus Arroyo, 80, may have had a happy life, but her family says her death was horrifying, that she was frozen alive in the morgue at White Memorial Medical Center.

"They think about what happened to her every time they have to think about this case," said Scott Schutzman, the family's attorney.

Arroyo family attorney Scott Schutzman says Arroyo was brought to White Memorial in 2010 after she suffered a heart attack. She was pronounced dead and placed in one of the freezers at the morgue there.

But when a worker at the funeral home received her body several days later, Arroyo was face-down in the body bag and had serious injuries, including a broken nose and facial bruising.

A pathologist hired by the Arroyo family determined that the 80-year-old was still alive when placed in the morgue, that her injuries were the result of trying to escape, and that she eventually froze to death in the dark.

The family's lawsuit against the hospital and the doctor who pronounced Arroyo dead was initially thrown out, but this week the 2nd District Court of Appeals overturned that decision after testimony from the pathologist, allowing the suit to proceed.

"Every time something comes out on this case, the family relives the horrific death that Maria de Jesus Arroyo suffered. However, it was a little gratifying this time that the Court of Appeals said we could go forward on our medical malpractice case," said Schutzman.

The administration at White Memorial is refuting the Arroyo family's story. They issued a written statement this afternoon that reads in part: "... We continue to disagree with the allegations being made. 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."

The family is suing the hospital and the doctor who pronounced Arroyo dead for malpractice. Schutzman expects it to take about a year or so before the case works its way back into a courtroom.


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