Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Did a dead woman beat herself up--or did her doctor wrongly pronounce her as dead?

Arroyo v. Plosay (Cal. Ct. App. - April 2, 2014)
California Appellate Report
Thoughts on recent Ninth Circuit and California appellate cases from Professor Shaun Martin at the University of San Diego School of Law.
April 02, 2014

Maria Arroyo dies, and when the mortuary comes to pick up her body, her face is all bashed in, which the mortuary can't fix. Since Arroyo simply died of a heart attack -- not something that usually bashes a face -- everyone assumes that someone in the hospital must have futzed with (or mutilated) the body. So in 2011, Arroyo's survivors sue the hospital for disfiguring the body, which is indeed a tort.

But plaintiffs end up dismissing the case without prejudice after the trial court grants various summary judgment motions. Oh well. That's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.

But then Arroyo's survivors figure out what really went down. How did Maria's face get bashed in? Well, after she was pronounced dead by the medical staff at the hospital, she was taken to the morgue and put in a compartment in the hospital's freezer. Presumably one of those drawer-like things that you see on television.

But when the mortuary workers found her, Arroyo was face down. With her nose broken and with lacerations and contusions all over her face.

How'd she get that way? You guessed it. The survivors' expert says that Maria was still alive when the hospital declared her dead and put her in the freezer. And that, later, she woke up, bashed her face and head against the compartment in a vain attempt to escape, and ultimately just froze to death.


There's a whole big statute of limitations problem. Which, as the Court of Appeal holds, is more fatal to one cause of action than some of the others.

But boy. I would not want to be defending this one. Because unless you've got a good way to explain to a jury how Maria ended up face down with her nose broken, the alternative -- that she was put in the morgue alive only to freeze to death -- is . . . well, chilling. To say the least...

The decision states, "The separate judgments
of dismissal are reversed as to the causes of
action for medical negligence and wrongful
death against the Hospital and Dr. Plosay
, and affirmed as to the cause of action for
The parties shall
bear their own costs on appeal.

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