There are some nightmare scenarios so scary that they have endured as the premises of horror stories and urban legends. One of these scenarios involves being buried alive. For some, there would be few scarier ways to die than by waking up in a closed casket under several feet of earth.
Of course, such a scenario is nearly unheard of these days. But in one recent lawsuit alleging hospital negligence, the family of an 80-year-old woman claims that she died under circumstances that may have been just as horrifying. After suffering a heart attack and being mistakenly pronounced dead, the woman allegedly woke up in a body-preserving freezer and died while trying to “escape her frozen tomb.”
The incident occurred at a Southern California hospital in July 2010. No one might have noticed the serious error if her struggle to free herself hadn’t caused serious facial injuries. Morticians received the woman’s body lying face down, which would have been unusual in its own right. But she also had cuts and bruises on her face and a broken nose. None of these injuries would have been consistent with a heart attack. These facial injuries were so prominent that they could not be adequately covered by makeup.
The family’s lawsuit against the hospital was initially dismissed because a judge determined that the suit was filed after the one-year statute of limitations had expired. However, an appellate court recently overturned that decision and allowed the lawsuit to go forward. It found that the family wasn’t alerted to the fact that the woman may have been frozen alive until December 2011, when a pathologist gave his expert opinion.
As far as misdiagnosis is concerned, mistakenly pronouncing someone dead is about as serious of an error as a medical professional can make. The fear, pain and suffering the woman must have endured as she awoke in the morgue is likely a source of great grief for the family. Hopefully, the hospital will be made to answer for what clearly seems to be gross negligence.
Source: L.A. Times, “Lawsuit: Woman frozen alive in L.A. hospital died trying to escape,” Victoria Kim, April 3, 2014