“I think more attorneys are getting involved in filing cases,” says Whitney. “They have been inspired by some of the results we have achieved in Maryland and there’s a group of lawyers throughout the country that are actually viewing these cases as viable.
“In the past a typical lawyer would say where are the damages,” says Whitney. “They didn’t see a lot of medical records or property damage so they did not appreciate the value of the non-economic damages component to these cases.
“But when you get these cases in front of a jury, they react and they understand the misery that people go through.
“We have gotten $200,000 settlements, $100,000 settlements, $50,000 settlements and more so we are talking real money.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) describes the cimex lectularius, or the common bedbug as a “public health pest”. These tiny apple seed sized reddish brown bugs do not spread disease but they feed on the blood of human hosts leaving them with itchy bite marks. Victims of a bedbug infestation often find the experience psychologically disturbing, embarrassing and extremely disruptive.
The proliferation of bedbugs is blamed on increased air travel, the bedbug’s resistance to chemicals, ineffective pest control management and a lack of knowledge. They’ve been found in hotels, apartments, schools, libraries, planes, nursing homes, hospitals, buses --- almost anywhere and everywhere.
“This problem is much more prevalent than it was 15 years ago,” says Whitney. “It is accelerating and picking up speed. The increasing problem was blamed on bedbug resistance to chemicals and more international travel. Back then, that may have been true. That is no longer the case. What is happening is people stay in hotels and live in apartments were bedbugs are not being treated. They then go out and spread bedbugs to other places.”
The lawsuits usually turn on whether or not the apartment building, hotel or any other place with a bedbug infestation did its duty with respect to eradicating the pests. Even though landlords and hoteliers often deny the problem Whitney says it is reasonably easy to prove the case.
“If someone spends the night in a hotel and two hours later they wake up and they are itching and they have 20, 30, 40 or 100 bedbug bites – well, that is not a case where the person brought the bedbugs with them. These are resident bedbugs and we can prove that even if it is flatly denied there was a problem.
“With the apartment cases most of the time a family will move into a residence that has pre-existing problems. Within a few nights of moving they are being bitten. Often, we can track down a prior tenant who will say, ‘Yes, I moved out because of the bedbugs’,” says Whitney.
It all comes down to the standard of care – it the facility is not diligent about watching for bedbug infestation the court may consider them to be negligent and see merit in plaintiff’s lawsuit.
“Many hotels do follow a standard of care and have educated management and staff.
“You have housekeepers who are trained to watch for signs of bedbugs with each cleaning. You can watch for bedbug excrement and bedbugs in the linen. If you have a room with a history of infestation then the maintenance should be doing more thorough inspections.
“If they find bedbugs, they have to quarantine the room and promptly call an outside qualified pest control company to treat the room,” he adds. “This is what pest control companies recommend and this is the protocol at dozens of major hotel chains.
“America is not dealing with its bedbug problem,” says Whitney. “There are major hotels that do not have a written bedbug protocol or adhere to the standard of care.”
In the past, bedbug bite victims would often be offered “points” to stay at another hotel in the chain or a few hundred dollars in compensation. But these days, many people are demanding a lot more than that for going through what many people describe as a horrific experience – and they’re biting back in the courts.