LOS ANGELES -

An appellate court says the family of a woman who may have been prematurely declared dead, awoke in the hospital's freezer and struggled before ultimately freezing to death, can go forward with a lawsuit against the hospital.

Maria de Jesus Arroyo, 80, was pronounced dead in July 2010 at White Memorial Medical Center in Boyle Heights after suffering a heart attack.

When morticians received her body a few days later, they found her body face down, with her nose broken and cuts and bruises to her face, according to court papers cited by the Los Angeles Times.

Arroyo's husband and eight children initially sued the hospital alleging the body had been mishandled. But during litigation, a pathologist who reviewed Arroyo's injuries concluded they likely occurred while she was still alive -- that she had been "frozen alive," "eventually woke up" and "damaged her face and turned herself face down as she struggled unsuccessfully to escape
her frozen tomb," according court records.

The family's attorney withdrew the mishandling lawsuit and filed a second case in May 2012 alleging the hospital had mistakenly declared her dead and frozen her while she was still living.

A Los Angeles trial judge threw out that lawsuit, siding with the hospital's attorneys that the second suit was filed too late, beyond the one-year statute of limitations after the family discovered Arroyo's injuries.

The hospital has not addressed the allegation that Arroyo was prematurely declared dead, according to court records cited by The Times.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal Wednesday overturned the trial judge and revived the medical malpractice suit, finding that the family could not have known Arroyo may have been prematurely declared deceased and frozen alive until the pathologist gave his expert opinion in December 2011, The Times reported.