So You Got a Bed Bug Bite. Should You Sue?
Updated: Oct 31, 2019
The bed bug law suits keep coming!
Item #1: An Alhambra jury awarded a Los Angeles family a $1.6 million payout on a bed bug case. The family in question was plagued for months with bed bugs at their apartments in Inglewood in 2010.
Item #2: Last year, an Arkansas woman filed a lawsuit against the Arizona Biltmore Hotel and Resort, a Hilton Waldorf Astoria luxury property, because a stay left her covered in bed bug bites.
Item #3: A New York woman, who received a whopping 25 bed bug bites at a Holiday Inn in North Carolina, filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit in 2013 against the hotel chain.
If these stories surprise you, you’re not alone. Most people aren’t aware of the fact that bed bugs have seen a resurgence in recent years. In fact, according to the science journal Nature, “At least 20% of Americans have encountered bed bugs in their homes, their offices, and in hotels and sundry other places.”
And the virtual tsunami of bed bug lawsuits we’ve recently seen is proof positive of this trend.
What to do if you’ve been bitten by bed bugs:
So, what should you do if you suspect that you’ve been bitten by bed bugs while staying at a hotel or renting a house or apartment? Quite a lot, it turns out.
First, take photos, or a video, of the bed bugs, the bed bug bites, and blood (if any) on the bed sheets. Why? Evidence! You will have to prove your claim if you decide to bring suit. But it’s not just a matter of verifying the authenticity of your claims that’s at stake here. Having irrefutable proof of bed bug bites will certainly have an influence of the level of compensation you can expect. Even better if you can nab one or two bed bugs and store them in a plastic bag. Keep in mind that the hotel chain or the apartment owner may well claim that there are not ̶ and never were ̶ bed bugs on their property. Your evidence will quickly discredit or undermine their counter claims.
Second, (and this is crucial) you should report any bed bug incident to motel/motel management right away. If the problem occurs in a rental property or an office space, you should file a complaint with the owner or landlord as soon as possible. Documentation is vital if you are going to file a lawsuit, so share your complaint with the local department of health. Make sure to include details about which employees you spoke to, what was said and how the problem was resolved. As part of this process you should also insist that a formal incident report be filed. Again, this will validate any later legal claim you might make. You should also ensure that this incident report describes exactly what happened, where the bed bugs were found, how many people were bitten, and any other important details.
Third, report the incident to your local health department, or whichever local government department oversees such problems. There’s a very good chance that a representative or inspector will inspect the hotel/motel or rental property within a day or two of your report being filed. As a general rule, the inspector will compel the hotel/motel apartment manager to show them the incident report and any pest control records they may have in their possession. And by the way, hotels, motels, apartment buildings and offices are all the same: If the local health department receives a complaint about a bed bug infestation, they will subject the property to an inspection.
Fourth, if you have been victim of a bed bug attack, you should seek immediate medical attention. There is no tried-and-true cure-all to get rid of all bed bugs, although they can be treated with cortisone and steroids, which can be helpful in lessening the itching and swelling of bed bug bites.
To sue...or not to sue
Before we go on, let me make it clear that I am not a lawyer, and anything you read in this blog should be regarded as helpful information, and nothing more. If you have experienced anything like the incidents described above, contact an attorney immediately.
(Just don’t construe what follows as legal advice.)
That said, there are a few things you need to be aware off if you intend to sue a hotel, an apartment building owner or even a hospital (yes, even the best health care institutions can play ‘host’ to bed bugs!)
The growing number of lawsuits related to bed bugs has had an impact not only on the hotel/motel business, but has also had an impact on the owners of apartment buildings.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “The Apartment Owners Assn. warned in an article in its March 2018 monthly publication that bed bug verdicts have become common. ‘Regardless of whether the tenant introduced them [bedbugs] to the building or not, the landlord has a responsibility to make the place habitable,’ the publication reported. ‘Which means the landlord would likely pay for the extermination and costs associated with it.’”
Consider both sides of the argument
Keep in mind, then, that what holds for apartment building owners also holds for hotel
managers and others.
Talk to any number of personal injury lawyers and they will quickly tell you that the vast majority of bed bug lawsuits center on the medical expenses that can make life miserable for most plaintiffs. However, the fact of the matter is that bed bug bites, however many there are, can easily be treated with OTC creams or antihistamines.
Bed bugs rarely give rise to large medical bills. And those being sued know this ̶ or at least their attorneys do ̶ and they may well argue accordingly.
However, a more experienced attorney will probably avoid the medical bill approach and take another tactic, entirely. They may well focus on the psychological and emotional trauma that could arise if someone is the victim of bed bug bites. Of course, this is much harder to prove.
An experienced attorney, especially one that knows their way around a courtroom, may be willing to take such an approach. By the same token, the lawyers arguing for those being sued also know how difficult this ‘psychological and emotional trauma’ strategy can be.
Whatever you decide to do, you should consider all these factors before you actually file suit. Our best advice: Find a good attorney and listen to what she or he has to say.
Have bed bugs in your home?
If you discover that your bed bug problem is in fact in your own home, fret not. While you can't sue, you can get rid of these bed bugs! Learn more.