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How to Sue a Hotel for Bed Bugs

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. | Updated by Vaidehi Mehta, Esq. | Last updated on

They're icky. They're itchy. They make you want to burn everything you own.

They're bed bugs, and if you have them, you're likely miserable and miserable to be around. The silver lining is that bed bug bites, while itchy and frustrating, typically don't require medical treatment and usually heal on their own within a week or two. Of course, there are occasions in which you could have a severe allergic reaction to bed bugs or a secondary infection just from scratching the bites. In any case, the experience can ruin your vacation.

Hopefully, you don't have a bed bug infestation in your own house. But even if you got them from a hotel room or Airbnb, you're probably feeling pretty angry. At the least, you probably want your money back, but you may even want to know whether you can sue a hotel for bed bugs. The answer is: it depends. While you are probably eligible to bring a lawsuit, not every bed bug case will be successful.

First Steps

Before we get into the possibility of bringing a bedbug lawsuit, there are some immediate first steps you'll want to take for damage control.

  • Protect your neck. If you choose not to stay in a different hotel that night, at least move to a different room, and if possible, request a room far away from the infested one. Even if you move to a new room, see if you can acquire some sort of bedbug-proof encasement, such as special covers that can trap any existing bed bugs on the mattress and prevent them from biting you. Continue to check for bed bugs before getting into bed each night. Pay close attention to seams, tufts, and crevices in the mattress, box spring, and headboard. If you're wary about bringing the bed bugs back into your own home, contact a pest control company. And if you want to go a more unconventional route, you can also look into a bed bug dog.
  • Quarantine the buggers. Before leaving the hotel room, thoroughly vacuum your luggage, paying close attention to seams and zippers. Use a hot dryer on high heat to treat your belongings (check fabric care labels first). Avoid putting your luggage on the bed or furniture. Place your belongings in a sealed plastic bag or suitcase and keep them away from the infested area. Once back at home, immediately launder all your clothes and bedding in hot water and dry them on high heat. Vacuum and inspect your furniture, especially where you'll be storing your luggage.
  • Notify the right people. Alert the hotel management about the suspected bed bug infestation. A reputable hotel will take your concerns seriously and initiate proper inspection and treatment procedures. Additionally, the local health department is generally the primary authority to notify about pest infestations, including bed bugs. They can investigate the hotel, ensure proper treatment protocols are followed, and potentially take legal action against non-compliant establishments. You can find your local health department contact information using the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) directory.
  • Gather Evidence. If you find bed bugs in your hotel, you should document them with photos. Take pictures of the room and any bites. Take notes and pictures if you bring them home and they infest your house. Also, keep track of any medical expenses and home expenses as you try to mitigate the infestation.

Suing Hotel for Bed Bugs

If you were a hotel guest, depending on your location, you may be entitled to compensation from the hotel for the inconvenience and potential health risks caused by the bed bug infestation. Just like with slip-and-fall injuries or dog bites, getting hit with bed bugs at a hotel could be the basis of a premises liability lawsuit.

Premises Liability

Hotels have a legal duty to maintain their premises in a safe and habitable condition for guests. This includes providing a room free from dangerous or unhealthy conditions like pest infestations. Suing a hotel for bed bugs comes down to whether you can prove negligence.

For a successful lawsuit, you must prove negligence on the part of the hotel. This means establishing that:

  • The hotel knew or should have known about the bed bug infestation (duty of care).
  • They failed to take reasonable steps to prevent or eradicate the infestation (breach of duty).
  • This failure caused the guest to suffer harm (causation).

To prove negligence, you'll need evidence like:

  • Documentation of the infestation, such as photos or videos of bed bugs or bites.
  • Receipts from any treatment you received for bites.
  • Witness statements from other guests who encountered bed bugs.
  • Complaints to hotel staff about the infestation.

If you do win the lawsuit, you can be compensated for various damages, including:

  • Medical expenses for treating bites or associated health problems.
  • A home inspection from the exterminator and any treatment for the home infestation of bed bugs
  • Property damage or replacement costs for infested belongings.
  • If your home was infested as a result of bringing bed bugs back, temporary lodging while your home is unsafe.
  • Emotional distress and psychological harm caused by the infestation or compensation for pain and suffering. (Think of all those sleepless nights and the itching. And your newfound fear of hotels!)
  • Loss of wages or income due to missed work or discomfort.

There are several factors that will affect the likelihood of success of your lawsuit. For one, the hotel's response to the guest's complaint (e.g., proactive treatment, offering an alternative room) may weaken your case or reduce your compensation should you win. Local laws and regulations regarding pest control in hotels will also affect whether the hotel can be found in violation of their duty, which could make or break your case. Finally, the severity of the infestation and bite reactions would affect how much money you can recover.

Hurdles in Bed Bug Lawsuits

Premises liability cases can be complex, and success depends on specific circumstances and evidence.

Proving negligence could be difficult because bed bugs are difficult. Sufferers know that they take forever to kill. One lone bug could repopulate the entire area. Even consistent monitoring can fail to turn up a new infestation.

Typically homeowners or hotel owners need to hire pest control, and it takes time and money to remove an infestation. In a lawsuit you may be able to get compensation for property damage, bed bug injuries, emotional distress, and premises liability.

And what if the guests or employees don't tell the manager they were bitten by a bed bug? Some would suggest that hotels have a legal duty of care to inspect staff and rooms for infestations. But the cause of the pest and negligence from the hotel staff can be hard to prove, which means courts (and juries) may disagree.

Remember, pursuing legal action should be a last resort after exhausting other reasonable options. If you're confident you have a strong legal case and can gather enough evidence that the hotel acted negligently, you can probably file a lawsuit. If it should come to that, consulting with an attorney experienced in personal injury and premises liability cases can help assess your individual situation and determine the best course of action. If a lawyer doesn't take your case, you can also consider small claims court.

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