The Jackson Citizen-Patriot reports that a family is suing the Storer YMCA camp in Napoleon Township, Michigan, claiming that their son brought bed bugs home with him from camp.
Edward Higgins, the defense lawyer, tried to kill the suit, claiming it’s impossible to know how and when bed bugs arrived in the home, but the judge did not dismiss the civil suit:
Circuit Judge John McBain said there’s no evidence the YMCA camp knew of the blood-sucking insects in 2005, but a jury or judge could decide whether officials should have suspected bugs and used routine pest control.
“No one in the Midwest had a clue there were bedbugs here,” Higgins said. “Most people thought it was the subject of a nursery rhyme.”
The bed bug blame game is a difficult one to win, as Higgins knows. In most cases, we have to admit a lack of definitive evidence as to the source of an infestation.
On the other hand, whatever the climate in 2005, the days of denying responsibility because you never heard of bed bugs in your area are now kaput.
Nevertheless, detecting bed bugs is no picnic even when you are aware, as many Bedbuggers will attest.
And it is true that you have to be aware in order to detect them. Still, the article asserts that
While bedbug population has been on the rise in the United States in the last five years, it is not true that no one in the Midwest knew of their existence before that.
“Bed bugs and people have been together since we lived in caves,” Michigan State University entomologist Howard Russell said.
Bed bugs have been here all along: we keep hearing this. Many entomologists and PCOs will assert they saw bed bugs (albeit more rarely) throughout the golden years of 1972-1999 (after DDT was banned in the US but before the current epidemic “began”). And yet others date the resurgence of bed bugs to circa 1999.
On the other hand, Russell does not see a clear link in the YMCA camp infestation and the home infestation:
“I would argue it was a coincidence because bed bug populations are on the rise, and there are many sources,” Russell said. Also, only DNA testing could prove the bugs hitched a ride from Storer Camp to the plaintiff’s house, he said.
Now, about that DNA testing: does he mean testing the home bed bug’s DNA (against that of the bed bugs found at the camp?) Or does he mean testing the client’s DNA being compared with that found in blood eaten by bed bugs at camp? Even if it’s proven that the bed bugs at camp and the bed bugs at home are from the same strain, or bit the same boy, how would either test prove definitively that bed bugs did not travel in the other direction?
Yes, I know a lot of readers will be really frustrated with me. Of course he got bed bugs from the camp, people will say. The same way that when someone first notices bed bug bites after a trip to a hotel, or the purchase of a new mattress (delivered in a truck), they will assume they know the source of bed bugs. And make no mistake, these are all probable sources. But it is also true in these cases that bed bugs could have been present in the home–undetected–before the incident in question.
That’s why the blame game doesn’t usually work.
I’m not a lawyer, but it seems like more than probability is needed to win a lawsuit.* Perhaps that kind of evidence is available to the judge and jury.
Not enough information is available from the article to call this a coincidence, nor to place blame. We don’t know what the kid saw or experienced at camp vs. at home. We don’t know if he was bitten at home first, or at camp. And even if we did, this moment (the first bite) is often hard or impossible to identify: it appears you can be bitten for months without reacting. People sometimes report a large number of bites appearing at once after many bites not causing an immediate reaction; entomologists who feed bed bugs have reported this occurrence.
Because bed bug bites are allergic reactions, and vary so widely, it is very hard to say when the cause is introduced, or removed.
*Update (3/10/2008): a reader who happens to be a lawyer responded to my comment above that, “I’m not a lawyer, but it seems like more than probability is needed to win a lawsuit.”
Actually, the standard for a civil case is
“preponderance of the evidence” — more probable than
not — basically more than a 50% chance.
Thank you, anonymous lawyer, for that correction.