Bed Bug Legal Decisions
Summary: Horror stories of hotel guests waking up with hundreds of red welts on their skin are becoming more common. Bed bug legal decisions have gained the attention of the nation with several lawsuits claiming millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages.
Bed bugs have pestered humans from the time of cave dwellers, but in the 1950s there was a decline in bed bugs populations because of the increased use of DDT pesticides. When DDT was banned in the 70s and international travel began its rise, the bed bugs started to come back.
As far back as 1993 there was a lawsuit in New York City where the landlord was suing a tenant for unpaid rent. The tenant claimed he should not have to pay the rent because of a breach of warrant of habitability; his apartment had bed bugs and was therefore uninhabitable. The judge ruled that the tenant had to pay only 45% of the rent because for six months the landlord did not take care of the bed bug infestation. The judge said that he expected the number of lawsuits to increase as the bed bug problem was becoming an epidemic.
In 2002 there were no reports of bed bugs in New York City. In 2005 there were 1,839 complaints. In 2006 that number grew to 4,638 complaints about bed bugs.
Bed bugs can cause lasting physical and mental problems, or so claim the victims pursuing compensation in lawsuits. They are suing for negligence, recklessness, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress, nuisance and deceptive trade practices. An opera singer was staying a Hilton hotel in Phoenix when she was bitten by bed bugs over the course of a 6 night stay. She is suing for $6 million. Another woman is suing a New York hotel for $20 million. She has a chance to win a large amount of that if other recent court decisions are good indicators.
A successful claim in Illinois against Accor Econ Lodging awarded $5,000 in compensatory damages and $186,000 in punitive damages to two travelers staying in a Motel 6 who were attacked by bed bugs. Another lawsuit awarded $100,000 to an assaulted group of six tourists staying at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York.
The victims of the bed bug bites claim that they have had trouble sleeping, have to sleep with a light on, dread staying in hotels, have horrible nightmares about being eaten by insects, and worry about their appearance after the experience of being bitten by a bed bug hoard. The bites are indeed itchy and painful, they can last as long as eight weeks, and they can leave permanent scars.
The judges ruling in the favor of the plaintiffs in the bed bug cases have stated that the owners of the hotels have not taken appropriate action when they have become aware of the infestation. In the example of the Motel 6 lawsuit, the management of the hotel knew that there were bed bugs in the room but rented the room out anyway.
The rule in cases of bed bugs in an apartment is usually that the landlord is responsible for the costs of extermination. The exception to this is when the tenant is responsible for bringing the bed bugs into the apartment in the first place. If a tenant brings in a mattress infested with bed bugs for example, then the tenant would be responsible for pest control costs and would not be allowed out of the lease to move to a new apartment unless the cost of pest control was paid.
I would agree hotel guests should expect a clean, pest-free environment. It is the hotel's responsibility to train its employees to look for signs of bed bugs. It is also the hotel's responsibility to hire and make reasonable compensation to a professional pest control company to manage their pest control program. Anything short of this effort and the hotel is asking for a law suit. Apartment owners face an entirely different set of problems. They do not have daily access to accommodations, as do hotels, so they are solely dependent upon informing tenants about how to identify bed bugs, how to respond if bed bugs are found and what steps to take to prevent reoccurence of bed bug infestations. Apartment owners cannot control who visits a tenant's apartment, or where the tenant visits or what the tenant carries into his/her apartment. I think an apartment owner owes it to his tenants to provide clean common areas and working facilities, but the courts cannot expect a landlord to mandate how a tenant lives.
Over time, this battle will work its way through the courts and possibly legislation.
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