lawsuit alleging fatal morgue mishap allowed to proceed

For the most part, medical malpractice claims alleging negligence on the part of a hospital are fairly straightforward. For example, a complaint might allege that a hospital’s failure to abide by sterilization protocol resulted in a dangerous infection or that an overworked nurse’s failure to administer a medication caused serious injuries to a patient.

Unfortunately, every so often, a medical malpractice lawsuit comes along alleging hospital misconduct that is so egregious that it leaves a person wondering how something like that could have ever happened.

To illustrate, consider a lawsuit filed by the family of an 80-year-old woman from Los Angeles who was taken to an area hospital in July 2010 after suffering a heart attack. Here, the attending physicians eventually declared the woman deceased and her body was taken to the hospital’s morgue freezer.

When her body was eventually received by morticians to prepare for burial, they noted that the woman had endured extensive facial injuries, including cuts, bruises and a broken nose.

Understandably outraged, the woman’s family — including her husband and eight children — filed a lawsuit accusing the hospital of mishandling her remains.

In an utterly horrific turn of events, however, an examining pathologist concluded in December 2011 that the woman had not yet passed away when she was placed in the morgue and that the facial injuries were more than likely suffered as she tried to escape from the “frozen tomb.”

After learning this shocking fact, the family withdrew the original lawsuit and filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital. Here, however, the presiding superior court judge granted the hospital’s motion to have the lawsuit dismissed on the grounds that the one-year statute of limitations for bringing a medical malpractice lawsuit had passed.

The family appealed the decision and, just last week, the California 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed and remanded, holding the family had no idea of what had transpired until such time as the pathologist rendered his conclusions.

“Plaintiffs had absolutely no reason to suspect that the decedent was alive rather than dead when placed in the Hospital morgue and when the disfiguring injuries occurred,” reads the opinion.

While cases like these are nearly too awful to fathom, they do serve to underscore just how important it is to examine any and all options if a loved one’s injuries or passing occurs under questionable circumstances while in the hospital. These options may included speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about what can be done and how to proceed.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, “Family that claims L.A. hospital froze woman alive can sue,” Victoria Kim, April 2, 2014

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