updated 04/03/2014 AT 2:00 PM ET
•originally published 04/03/2014 AT 7:30 PM ET
A family that claims a woman was frozen to death in a hospital morgue after she was prematurely declared dead can proceed with a medical malpractice lawsuit, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The California 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned a lower court ruling that the lawsuit against White Memorial Hospital was filed too late, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Maria de Jesus Arroyo, 80, was declared dead in July 2010 after suffering a heart attack and was placed in a freezer at the Boyle Heights hospital. Morticians who received her body a few days later discovered that it was face down and the woman had a broken nose and disfiguring cuts and bruises to her face, according to court papers.
Arroyo’s husband and eight children filed a lawsuit that claimed her body was mishandled.
However, as the case was being heard in December 2011, a pathologist concluded the woman had been frozen alive, “eventually woke up” and caused the injuries herself during a failed struggle to escape her “frozen tomb,” according to court records.
The family withdrew the lawsuit and in May 2012 filed a medical-malpractice lawsuit. A judge in Los Angeles County Superior Court threw out the lawsuit, ruling that it was filed past the one-year statute of limitations.
However, the appellate court said the family had “absolutely no reason” to suspect that the woman was alive until the pathologist gave his expert opinion. The case now returns to the lower court for further proceedings.
The hospital has not addressed the allegation that Arroyo was prematurely declared dead, the Times said, citing court records.
A call seeking comment from a hospital representative on Wednesday was not immediately returned.