Maria de Jesus Arroyo’s case is the stuff of nightmares: Her family alleges the 80-year-old woman was still alive when she was put in a hospital morgue after suffering from a heart attack.
White Memorial Medical Center declared Arroyo dead in 2010 after she was rushed to the hospital when she went into cardiac arrest. Doctors weren’t able to revive her, and she was declared dead and put in a body bag in a freezer compartment face-up in the hospital’s morgue, according to court documents.
When mortuary workers arrived to pick up Arroyo’s body, they found her face-down in the morgue, body bag half open, with a broken nose and cuts on her face. Arroyo’s face was so disfigured that morticians weren’t able to mask her injuries.
Arroyo didn’t have those injuries when her relatives came to see her body after she died, so her family filed a lawsuit against the hospital for what they thought was mishandling of Arroyo’s body after her death.
But when a doctor reviewed her injuries, he made a shocking discovery — Arroyo was likely still alive when she sustained the injuries in the morgue. The type of marks that were found on Arroyo’s forehead could not occur postmortem, a pathologist said in court documents.
The face-down position Arroyo’s body was in when morticians arrived at the hospital also raises questions.
William Louis Manion, a pathologist who wrote a declaration for the case, noted that he has moved thousands of bodies during his career as a pathologist and he has never seen a body rotate within a body bag while it’s being moved to a morgue table.
He wrote that Arroyo likely woke up due to the extreme cold of the morgue’s freezer, struggled to get out of the body bag, and then died of hypothermia and asphyxiation.
Storing a body in a face-down position is also a “substantial breach” of standard care practices, according to the declaration.
Manion also raised questions about whether hospital staff properly confirmed that Arroyo was dead before sending her to the morgue. The hospital reportedly had inconsistent records of Arroyo’s EKG that would have determined if her heart stopped beating, according to court documents.
Scott Schutzman, a lawyer for the Arroyo family, told CBS Los Angeles that this case is “one of the most egregious … you’ll ever see.”
The hospital argued in court that it was too late for the family to file a lawsuit because of the state’s statute of limitations, but they haven’t addressed the claims that Arroyo was declared dead prematurely and frozen alive in the hospital’s morgue, according to the Times.
Read the court documents below:
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