Post & Schell, P.C.

Bedbug Litigation from a Risk Management and Defense Perspective

December 14, 2010

By: Marc H. Perry

There has been a remarkable increase in bedbug infestations in the U.S. in the past year. Locations have included five-star hotels, luxury apartment buildings, hospitals, nursing homes, university dormitories, cruise ships, trains and airplanes. Recently, there have been reported cases of bedbug infestations in retail establishments, movie theaters, office buildings and homes. These latter cases emphasize the mobility of the bedbug population. They are transported in the folds of luggage, overnight bags, folded clothes, bedding, and furniture.

The proliferation of bed bug infestation has led to an increase in bed bug litigation and settlements, involving both compensatory and punitive damages. Post & Schell, P.C. has handled bedbug litigation and consulting for several years. Through our partnerships with top experts in the field of entomology, as well as our case specific litigation experience, we are able to offer the following risk management tips from a defense perspective.

Bedbugs are small, flat insects that feed on the blood of sleeping people and animals. They are reddish brown in color, wingless, and range from 1 to 7 mm in length. They can live several months without a blood meal. Bedbugs can travel over 100 feet in one night but they tend to live within 8 feet of where people sleep.

Bedbugs have been common in U.S. history. Although bed bug populations dropped dramatically during the mid 20th century, the United States is one of many countries now experiencing resurgence in the population of bedbugs. Though the exact cause is not known, experts suspect that the resurgence is associated with an increased resistance of bedbugs to available pesticides, greater international and domestic travel, lack of knowledge regarding control of bedbugs due to their prolonged absence, and the continuing decline or elimination of effective pest control programs at state and local public health agencies.

While bedbugs are not known to transmit disease, they do pose a significant public health problem. Bedbugs cause a variety of physical and mental health consequences. There have been cases when people have had mild to severe allergic reaction to the bites with effects ranging from no reaction to a small bite mark to, in rare cases, anaphylaxis (severe whole body reaction), but bites can also lead to secondary infections of the skin such as impetigo, ecthyma, and lymphangitis. Bedbugs can also cause anxiety, insomnia and other mental health reactions.

It is often difficult to determine a bedbug infestation. It is usually identified by bite marks that appear on the face, necks, arms, hands and other body parts of people who have slept on the property. However, because bite marks may take as long as 14 days to develop in some people, it is often difficult to determine the origin of the infestation.

Thus, in an effort to prevent bedbug infestation, it is important that the property owner follow risk management techniques to prevent the infestation. Techniques may include the following:

  • Using monitoring devices;
  • Removing clutter where bedbugs can hide;
  • Applying heat treatment;
  • Vacuuming;
  • Sealing cracks and crevices to remove hiding places;
  • Using non-chemical pesticides; and
  • Judicious use of effective chemical pesticides

Unfortunately, there are no techniques that can completely prevent the possibility of bedbug infestation. A proactive plan will hopefully limit the possibility of infestation and also show evidence of reasonable proactive plan of action in case of a lawsuit. Thus, it is vitally important to have a plan in place to address bedbug infestations as soon as they are discovered or reported. Depending on the circumstances, the following steps would be appropriate:

  • Engage a licensed pest control professional for complete inspection and treatment of the premises;
  • Remove the infested (and possibly adjacent) rooms or offices from service until the pest control professional certifies it free of bedbugs;
  • Immediately offer a new room to a guest, or patient who reports problems;
  • Provide a fact sheet about bedbugs to complainants;
  • Offer to launder any complainants' clothes or personal items;
  • Prepare, maintain and train employees in the steps to be taken after a report of bedbug infestation

Business owners' conduct will be examined to see if there was reasonable care applied in preventing bedbug infestation and in reacting to the report of an infestation. Aggressive risk management steps will be powerful evidence to show the judge and jury that the business owner acted reasonably. These steps will assist in limiting liability on both compensatory and punitive damages in bedbug litigation. 

For more information or to consult with an attorney in Post & Schell's Hospitality Practice Group, please click here.

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About the Author: 

Marc H. Perry is a Principal and Co-Chair of Post & Schell's Hospitality Practice Group. He is an experienced trial lawyer. and has successfully represented members of the hospitality industry in litigation in state and federal courts. Mr. Perry has tried and litigated complex premises liability, catastrophic injury and wrongful death claims on behalf of the hospitality industry, including claims for slip/trip and fall, criminal conduct of third parties on the premises, negligent security, and bed bug claims.  Learn More >>

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