Bed Bugs and Litigation

In past posts, CompuScripts Court Reporters has brought you information on everything from mobile apps to occupational injuries. We’ve told you what to wear to a videoconference and what the essentials are when taking a deposition. This week, however, we’d like to discuss a more unpleasant topic: bed bugs.

Bed Bugs & Litigation

Why would the legal industry be interested in such a disgusting subject? Two reasons. One, attorneys spend quite a lot of time on the road and, therefore, in hotels, a common source of bed bug infestations. Two, more and more victims of bed bug infestations are filing personal injury lawsuits as a result of the physical and mental anguish associated with the nasty critters. We’ll return to those topics later, but first, it’s important to know what bed bugs are.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bed bugs are “small, flat, parasitic insects that feed solely on the blood of people and animals while they sleep.” They are frequently compared in appearance with apple seeds, and they may range in size from 1 millimeter to 7 millimeters, or the size of Lincoln’s head on a penny. Bed bugs are found worldwide, and their presence is not an indication of unclean surroundings. Bed bugs may be found anywhere people sleep, from the swankiest bed and breakfast accommodations in Charleston to a college freshman’s dorm room in Columbia.   The CDC reports that bed bugs are not known to spread illness; however, the scratching associated with the itchy bite may lead to secondary skin disease. And don’t think they’re going away any time soon. The University of California Museum of Paleontology’s website Understanding Evolution reports that bed bugs have “evolved resistance” to the pesticides most often used to exterminate them.

So if you’re spending time in a hotel during lengthy depositions, how can you tell if your room is bed bug free? The Environmental Protection Agency says to look in their hiding places. It is important to inspect the seams of upholstered furniture, mattresses and box springs, curtain folds, joints of dresser drawers, loose wall paper or wall decorations, electrical outlets and appliances, and the junctions of the walls and and ceiling. Make sure you check all of these spots as the CDC reports that bed bugs can travel over 100 feet in an evening. If you have any suspicions at all, report them immediately to hotel management. If you’re worried that you might have brought bed bugs home from your trip, the University of Minnesota says that treatment begins in your laundry room.   “If you think you have come into contact with bed bugs, immediately wash and dry your clothing on the hottest setting the fabric can withstand or store them in a sealed plastic bag until you are able to do so.  Shoes, bags and other objects can be put in the dryer for 30 minutes at medium-high temperature or the highest temperature the material can tolerate to kill bed bugs.”

And now for the legal issues. In the last 15 years, more and more lawsuits have been won by plaintiffs claiming compensatory damages associated with the cost of medical treatment and property loss, and punitive damages associated with negligence. The Baltimore Sun reports that in 2012, a jury awarded a Maryland woman $225,000 in a personal injury lawsuit filed against the furniture store from which she purchased two wood-framed beds, $75,000 more than she had sought. The Sun also reports an award of $800,000 to a Maryland woman alleging negligence on the part of her landlord, who had been previously notified of a potential bed bug infestation.   Of that award, $650,000 was in punitive damages. And in Illinois, the Chicago Tribune reports punitive damages of $372,000 awarded to siblings who alleged that the owners of a hotel in which they stayed were aware, but failed to disclose, that its rooms were infested with bed bugs. Damages were upheld by the United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, writing in its opinion that the hotel “…could not have rented any rooms at the prices it charged had it informed guests that the risk of being bitten by bedbugs was appreciable. Its failure either to warn guests or to take effective measures to eliminate the bedbugs amounted to fraud and probably to battery as well.” It is obvious that lawyers for both plaintiffs and defendants should take the nationwide spread of bed bug infestations very serious.

So forgive us if we’ve made you squeamish. The goal of CompuScripts’s blog is to entertain when possible, but always to offer valuable information to the attorneys, paralegals and legal assistants we serve.