Bed bugs spread among multi-unit housing, and also by hitching a ride on the person of travelers coming from infested space which can be as small as a single chair in a hotel lobby. The health and legal consequences for owners, managers, operators, guests and residents apartment buildings, multi-family, hospitality, theaters and commercial properties of all stripes are already huge and only getting bigger. The commercial real estate industry’s problem with bed bugs is only growing; some entomologists (that’s “bug scientists” to you and me) alarmingly predict that 50% of US residences will be infested with the persistent critters in a few years.
Attorney Christian Hardigree from UNLV’s Harrah College of Hotel Administration addressed NAR Annual 2011 in Anaheim today with a presentation on the legal aspects of the bed bug problem that had the full attention of a curious crowd of commercial pros.
Opening with a joke about “wingless blood-sucking parasites” (but enough about attorneys), Hardigree began her tour of the bed bug lawsuit landscape with one warning: “There is no perfect contract language to protect owners.”
It’s no wonder, since she outlined no fewer than twelve legal theories under which bed bug suits have been brought in various states. A small sampling of these include:
- Workman’s Comp: In the New York case Clark v. Beacon Capital Partners et. al. where Fox News employee was found to be repeatedly infesting the cable network’s offices with bedbugs brought from his infested home; each time the Fox offices were fumigated, the infestation returned. The question before the court was wether the landlord of the employee had obligation, and therefore liability in eradicating the pests before they harm employees.
- Strict product liability claims vs. Pest control operators: In Stepanek v. Wichita State University, illnesses of two students were claimed in court to be caused by improper usage of pesticide in an anti-bed bug effort.
- Loss of consortium: “Consortium” meaning “sexual relations” such loss due to lasting damage to the body as the result of attack by bedbugs. The good news for owners or liable parties is this legal theory only applies to married couples. The bad news is multi-million dollar awards have been won under it, including Kim v. Hilton Hotels
- ignore complaints
- assume the person complaining is lying
- overstate the cost of treatment
- misrepresent costs
- be rude or blame others
- be unprepared
- have a written protocol for inquiries
- train staff on what to say and what not to say
- know what kind of evidence to take/retain
- know when to bring in and how to select a pest control professional
- move a guest to another room
- take photos, video
- consider having a bed bug book or fact sheet
- have a media response plan
- Bed bugs: 365 day starvation diet-doesn’t work! (homeenvironmentcenter.wordpress.com)
- USC Bed Bugs: Students Claim Campus Infestation (huffingtonpost.com)
- Bed Bug-Sniffing Dogs are the Latest Weapons in Bed Bug Detection (prweb.com)