- After a department store employee died of cardiac arrest after coming to work, his family is suing the company after his body was not found in a locked bathroom for several days.
- The woman’s family claimed that it was impossible to hold an open casket funeral due to the degree of decomposition of the body.
- The 63-year-old never left work, and her cleaning cart was left outside a locked bathroom door for four days until Columbia police began searching for her.
The family of a department store employee whose body was left in a locked bathroom for several days after his death is suing the company, claiming the body was too decomposed to hold an open casket for a funeral.
Bessie Durham, a janitor, went to the family restroom at a Belk store near Columbia, South Carolina, around 7 a.m. Thursday and died of heart disease shortly after her shift, attorney Chris Hart said.
According to a lawsuit filed Tuesday, the 63-year-old woman never left work and her cleaning cart was left unattended until Columbia police called the store to look for Durham after her family reported her missing. He was left outside the locked door for four days.
The lawsuit was filed one year ago, on September 19, 2022, the day her body was discovered at a Columbiana Mall store.
The store remained open as usual. Durham works for a company that cleans stores, and Hart said her manager called her while she was dying, but no one complained about the bathrooms not being cleaned.
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“They didn’t ask if Bessie was okay. They didn’t ask why this cart hadn’t worked for four days,” Hart said. “They asked why the toilets weren’t cleaned.”
Berg did not respond to an email requesting comment on the lawsuit. After Durham’s death last November, the company issued a statement expressing its deepest sympathies to Durham’s family and saying it was trying to figure out what happened.
Columbia police investigated and determined no crime had been committed, spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons said.
An autopsy determined Durham died of a heart problem, and Hart said older people often experience symptoms such as the need to go to the bathroom right before a seizure.
The family is not seeking specific damages. The suit alleges that Belk employees should have regularly inspected the store not only for Durham’s safety, but also for the safety of shoppers and other employees.
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After the shooting at the mall, the store started locking its restrooms. Leaving the bathroom open and locked also created a safety issue, and Durham was unable to get help, according to the complaint.
Attorney Justin Bamberg said Durham’s body showed obvious signs of decomposition when it was found, making it impossible for the family to grieve properly.
“This family should have had the opportunity to say goodbye the right way instead of attending a funeral and smelling the decomposing body of their loved one,” Bamberg said.