DeKalb lawsuit claims hotel neglected 70-year-old before her death

Joanne Friis Burson died shortly after being found with a maggot-infested wound in a Buckhead hotel in 2018.

Credit: Bell Law Firm

Credit: Bell Law Firm

A Buckhead hotel is at the center of a wrongful death lawsuit about two years after a grandmother fell and died from a blood infection.

Natalie Burson filed a lawsuit against the Residence Inn by Marriott last week in DeKalb County State Court, alleging the hotel’s staff neglected her mother, Joanne Friis Burson, before her death. In addition, the legal complaint said hotel staff lied about checking on her mother for days, which led to her room becoming filthy.

Natalie Burson and her attorney, Lloyd Bell, said Joanne Burson was found days after she fell, which allowed a massive wound on her back to become infested with maggots. She died within 48 hours of being found. The hotel’s general manager declined to comment on pending litigation.

“How could an otherwise healthy 70-year-old, active woman end up on the floor of her hotel room with dog feces in the room, maggots attacking her body and the room in a state of filth," Bell said. "We believe somehow she ended up on the floor, couldn’t call for help and no one came and checked on her, even though they say they did.”

Natalie Burson and her mother shared a Brookhaven home that suffered storm damage in 2018. A temporary housing insurance company placed the two in different locations, with Joanne Burson staying at the Residence Inn by Marriott, located at 2200 Lake Boulevard.

The 70-year-old woman had beaten throat cancer months prior and had recently become a grandmother. Natalie Burson said her mother was the definition of tenacity.

“She was an amazing women — a pushy, Jewish, New York broad who could make an amazing brisket," Natalie Burson said.

On Sept 25, 2018, which was about eight months after Joanne Burson moved into the hotel, Natalie Burson said she was not able to reach her mother’s cellphone. She did not have a key to her mother’s room.

She called the hotel’s front desk and asked them to connect her to her mother. Bell said they assured Natalie Burson that they were checking on her mother, but that she couldn’t speak on the phone.

“When she would call the hotel, they would say, ‘She doesn’t want to talk right now. She’s tired. She’s resting. She’ll call you later. She’ll call you tomorrow,’ and this went on for several days," Bell said.

After a week, Natalie Burson threatened to call the police if the hotel staff didn’t check on her mother and get her on the phone. Roughly 10 minutes later, Joanne Burson was in an ambulance on the way to a hospital.

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Joanne Burson fell and suffered a large wound on her backside the size of a basketball, which had become infected with live maggots, Bell said. A doctor diagnosed her with sepsis, a life-threatening condition brought on by an untreated infection. Joanne Burson died Oct. 4, 2018.

After dealing with the initial grief, Natalie Burson went back to the hotel to pick up her mother’s belongings and question staff about what happened. When she visited the room, she said it was filthy but had clearly been visited.

“The bedding had been changed. The floors had been cleaned," she said. "There were fans on the floor in the room, but the room was still infested with flies and maggots to where you had to cover your face because they would land all over you.”

Joanna Burson’s dog, a Scottish terrier named Piper, was covered in insects and had left feces and urine throughout the room, she added.

According to the lawsuit, a manager at the hotel told Natalie Burson that she “should be ashamed of herself for having prompted a young staff member to go to Joanne’s room to see such a sight.” The manager then ordered her to leave the property, Natalie Burson said.

Natalie Burson said she was crushed, since hotel staff knew her mother by name and were always friendly in the past.

“I thought that someone would come and tell me. They have my cellphone number," she said. "I thought someone would come forward and tell me what happened just so I could know … I waited as long as I could to do the right thing.”

The lawsuit was filed Oct. 1, which was her last opportunity before Georgia’s two-year statute of limitations would make legal action impossible, Bell said. The lawsuit includes the hotel, the hotel’s management companies, the temporary housing insurance company and two employees.

They’re seeking more than $10,000 in damages, which would be determined at a jury trial. Bell said they also hope to get the incident report from the private ambulance company that the hotel called to take Joanna Burson to the hospital. Natalie Burson said she hopes her mother’s death will lead to internal policy changes for the hotel.

“If someone is staying at an extended stay, a hotel, an Airbnb, anything like that, if there’s a problem and they need help, the police should be called," she said. "It needs to be documented so loved ones can know.”

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