The family of a woman who was left dead in a department store bathroom for days is taking legal action against the retailer chain, saying it was negligent in failing to find her body and in keeping the bathroom safe for customers and other employees.
The lawsuit filed Sept. 19 marks exactly a year since 63-year-old Bessie Durham was found dead inside the public restroom of a Belk department store in Columbia, South Carolina, where she worked as a contractor custodian at the mall retailer.
The lawsuit states she had entered the bathroom to clean it around 7 a.m. last Sept. 15 and died shortly after due to a cardiac issue, never clocking out of her shift.
Her cleaning cart remained outside the locked bathroom door as her body "lay slumped over" for four days, the lawsuit said. That's when Columbia Police called the store — which had been regularly open the four-day span — to ask if they had seen Durham, as her family had reported her missing at that point.
Police and emergency responders "immediately smelled the stench of [Durham's] decomposing body" upon entering the restroom , the lawsuit states.
The family says this decomposing condition kept them from preparing a proper funeral and burial for Durham, as she could be smelled inside the casket.
The complaint alleges neither Belk's employees nor the contractor company which employed Durham inspected the restrooms the four days Durham was inside, constituting negligence for allowing her body to "rapidly decompose" while Belk "continued to ring up sales and generate revenue at their cash registers."
It also says Belk's new policy to lock its bathroom doors following a shooting at the mall created inherent unsafe conditions that kept Durham from seeking help.
The family is asking for damages in excess of $7,500 for their pain and other costs incurred to the family due to the situation. They demand a trial by jury in the lawsuit.
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