Bed bug infestations have become a problem of epidemic proportions. Initially, reports were coming in from major cities across the western world. But today, bed bugs are found in hotels and motels everywhere. Small town and country motels are not exempt from this problem. The hospitality industry has been victimized by its’ own growth in an age of easy, low cost international travel. Today, the epidemic is bed bugs. Tomorrow it may be some other pest that is able to hitch-hike around the globe. Nevertheless, hotels and motels can be sued when a bed bug infestation is transferred to a prior occupant or if injury occurs at the establishment from an infestation of bed bugs. You can minimize the likelihood of a successful legal action by taking preventative and rapid treatment measures against bed bugs. Being armed with bed bug information such as that provided here, working closely with a professional pest control company and putting legal and documented procedures in place will greatly help to avoid bed bug related problems and lawsuits. See (Bed Bug Law – Major Legal Topics) for a quick understanding of the overarching principles of law used in bed bug cases. These include negligence, misrepresentation, code violation. Additional topics include implied warranty of habitability and the doctrine of constructive eviction. Occupants of hotels and motels (referred to jointly as “inns”) have been sued for a wide variety of injuries attributed to bed bug infestations. Most commonly these occur under the theories of negligence or misrepresentation. It is also common for both to be alleged at the same time. Regarding other types of suits, some cases have suggested that inns cannot be held absolutely or strictly liable when no negligence is involved.
    1. This means that some wrongdoing by the inn must be found, which makes it more difficult to sue the hotel. The damages claimed against inns usually include physical pain, mental anguish, emotional distress, lost earnings, other suffering.
 
  1. Due to the comings and goings of large numbers of occupants from who knows where, inns are commonly places where bed bug infestations arise. Therefore, someone discovers they have bites from bed bugs or have an infestation, inns are often the first place current and prior hospitality industry patrons look to blame.
The hospitality establishment is placed in a precarious financial situation, having to weigh the short term financial gain of keeping rooms open against the obvious short term expense of both bed bug treatment cost and loss of room revenue. Naturally, there are also the long term considerations of lawsuits and reputation management. The Web is generating a wealth of information about the bed bug epidemic. Reputations are definitely being impacted by information available across the web and even on this website. It should be stated that due to the nature and size of this epidemic, reputations are tarnished, not so much for having had a bed bug infestation as for not taking correct, immediate and ethical actions to address the issue. To prevent injuries to guests and avoid the unpleasant results of being sued, companies should establish procedures to be as pro-active as possible.

Inn Liability For Employee’s Actions

Inns can be sued for the acts of their employees (i.e. held vicariously liable), while those employees are acting within the scope of their employment, also known as respondeat superior.
  1. This doctrine affects a variety of lawsuits. For example, if an employee acts negligently or misrepresents something, the hotel can be sued for that person’s acts. In a recent Illinois case an employee district manager of a hotel chain refused the hotel manager’s request to temporarily close the hotel so it could be treated for bed bugs. When later guests were bitten by bed bugs, damages were awarded. The message for inns is clear, it is better for inns to instruct their employees to err on the side of caution when dealing with bed bugs, and treat them as soon as possible to avoid potential liability.

Bed Bugs and State Law

There is further authority that instructs hotels to treat for bedbugs. Many states have statutes requiring the extermination of bed bugs in hotels.
    1. Furthermore, some cases also indicate that hotels have a duty to the patrons to keep the premises safe from insects.
 
  1. These statutes and cases are significant for a variety of reasons, but most importantly because in a suit for negligence the existence of a duty is required as described above, so this requirement is often satisfied by the statute and case, making it easier to sue for negligence.
The law is not very forgiving of inns and their employees who allow customers to sleep in rooms infested with bedbugs, so when bedbugs are discovered, it is best to act immediately.

Dealing with Pest Control Companies

For establishments that hire pest control companies to solve a bed bug problem, it is important to note that one cannot disclaim gross negligence when writing a contract.
    1. When interpreting contracts that have disclaimed ordinary negligence, courts have often held the facts of individual cases to be gross negligence and found the company liable anyway.
 
    1. Moreover, pest control companies have been held liable for injuries resulting from ordinary negligence.
 
    1. Individual inspectors have been found liable for a breach of contract when they were negligent in inspecting that an area was free of pests or committed a fraud in making the report.
 
  1. While most pest control companies will not provide a warranty for bed bug service (the ones that are probably the most knowledgeable about bed bugs), there are those that will offer limited warranties. It behooves those in the hospitality industry to understand those limitations. Typically the warranties for bed bugs are limited to retreatment during a specified timeframe.

Avoiding Lawsuits

There is a common misconception that Americans have evolved into a sue first, ask questions later society. What most people do not realize is lawsuits are generally not about the money, lawsuits are about anger. This anger stems from multiple sources but it all comes down to poor customer service or the feeling that customer was wronged by the hotel. Bedbugs infestations may be impossible to stop before customer are harmed, however, as a member of the hospitality industry community there are several things you can do to decrease the risk that a guest bitten by bed bugs will bring legal action against your establishment. The standard for negligence in this country is whether the defendant acted with reasonable care under the circumstances. If you follow these three steps, a court is less likely to find that your actions were unreasonable.
  1. Proper Training of Employees
    • Housekeeping EmployeesWhile bed bugs are fairly reclusive insects, they leave signs that they are there.Work with your pest management company to train employees, particularly the housekeeping staff on recognizing the signs of an infestation and stress the importance of prompt reporting of any infestations or signs of bed bugs.
    • Customer Service EmployeesYour front office staff should also be trained in how to react to a customer complaint of bed bugs. How your customer service associates react to a customer complaint could be the difference between getting sued or saving a customer’s relationship with the hotel. The last thing a complaining customer wants is to feel as if they are not being heard. Customer service associates should be calm and ready to offer solutions to the problem. At the very least the customer should be moved to a clean room and if necessary offered a complimentary night’s stay. Before a customer is moved you should ask them to inspect their luggage or clothing, informing the customer that bed bugs are transitory creatures and are known hitch a ride whenever they see fit. If an infestation is found to have spread to the customer’s luggage complimentary cleaning services should be made available.
  2. Set Procedures For Bed Bug InfestationsYou should work with your pest management professionals to create a set of procedures to so that your employees take the proper steps when a bed bug infestation is reported.It may be helpful to make available a manual or guide that explains to employees things like recognizing what a bed bug bite looks like, how to properly document an infestation and the importance of photographing bites for evidentiary purposes.
  3. Prompt AttentionIt’s not enough to do the right thing; a reasonable proprietor would promptly address infestation. The longer you wait after discovering a bed bug infestation the greater the chance the infestation will spread to other rooms, affecting more customers and costing more to fix. This kind of willful ignorance of the problem is strong evidence that you failed to live up to your responsibility to act as a reasonable person would when they found out there hotel was infested with bed bugs.
*Disclaimer: The information provided is generalized and should not be relied on as a complete and accurate description of the laws that apply in your state. For the best course of action consult an attorney that specializes in the law in your state before taking further action. Call today at 1-800-986-1006 for help with a bed bug infestation. You’re also welcome to complete the form below and a caring Hearts Pest Management representative will contact you shortly.
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