Bed Bugs, Hotels & Your Legal Rights

Infestations of bedbugs have increased dramatically in recent years. Unfortunately, traveling and sleeping in places where other people have slept puts one at risk for coming into contact with these annoying parasites. Bed bug bites can cause pain and itching. Insecticide spraying to get rid of them after an infestation can be costly, and all too often ineffective. Worse, a hotel guest may inadvertently take bed bugs home with them. Those who've had the misfortune to encounter bed bugs while staying at a hotel may be wondering if there is any legal recourse.

What Are Bed Bugs?

Known to scientists as Cimex lectularius, bed bugs are insect parasites that survive by drinking blood from people and animals.

  • On average, a bed bug is about the size of an apple seed.
  • These reddish-brown insects can live in beds, chairs, couches, and other upholstered furniture as well as clothing, bedding, and the fabrics from which luggage is made.
  • They can also live inside the walls and pass from one room to another through wall outlets. In this way, they can enter hotel rooms and nest inside a guest's clothing or suitcases, then take up residence in the room itself and infect subsequent guests.

Are Bed Bugs Dangerous to One's Health?

Although their bites can range from mildly annoying to painful and have been known to wake people up from their sleep, bed bugs rarely pose a serious health concern to humans.

  • According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the insects are not known to be hosts of communicable diseases.
  • Bed bug bites can usually be treated with an antiseptic lotion or cream plus an antihistamine to combat itching.
  • They pose a slightly greater risk when the victim engages in excessive scratching, which can leave the skin open to secondary infection and an allergic reaction, either of which may require medical attention.


Your Legal Rights

Whether any legal remedy is possible may depend upon the state in which the hotel is located. The National Conference of State Legislatures notes that as of 2017, there were 22 states and one U.S. territory that had laws on the books regarding bed bugs, some of which date back to the early 20th century.

  • Alabama, California, Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, South Dakota, and West Virginia have laws specifically addressing bed bugs in hotels.
  • Georgia's laws do not specifically name hotels, but do cover bed bugs in tourist accommodations legislation.
  • In Alabama, it's a violation of state administrative code for a hotel to harbor conditions that allow insects and rodents to infest the property. The code spells out specific measures that must be undertaken to prevent the presence of insects and other pests.
  • California requires hotel bedding to be changed in between the arrival of each guest and places the burden on hotel staff to ensure that bedding is free of bed bugs.


Proving Negligence

In order to successfully sue a hotel for damages related to a bed bug infestation, the plaintiff must be able to prove in court that the hotel was negligent. If a hotel has a legal duty to inspect each room and each bed for bed bugs between one hotel guest and the next, and the client can show that the hotel was negligent in its duty, then a legal case can be made. Contact a personal injury lawyer DC trusts immediately to discuss the details of your case.

The insecticide products that hotels and other institutions are legally permitted to use to exterminate bed bugs are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA reports that "quick fix" methods for eliminating bed bugs circulated by word of mouth and on the Internet may cause as much damage, or even more, than the insect infestation itself. If you believe you may have been harmed by an illegal method used to control bed bugs, call a personal injury attorney.

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Thanks to our friends and contributors from Cohen & Cohen, P.C. for their insight into personal injury practice.

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