Last summer’s PCT Bed Bug Seminars featured Christian Hardigree, a University of Nevada – Las Vegas law professor who is an expert on beg bug legal issues. Brad Harbison interviewed her for PCT Online, and I highly recommend you give it a listen (click the play button below).
Hardigree discusses some of the grounds on which people have sued over bed bugs:
- overexposure to pesticides (when a property was being treated by two entities at once, for example)
- rentals of a home or hotel room when the owner or property manager knew of an infestation and did not try to protect the customer
- landlords have sued tenants who stopped paying rent due to bed bugs (and tenants have been awarded a partial credit based on the “uninhabitable portion” of the home)
The legal theories under which people could be held liable include:
- severe emotional distress
- gross negligence
- warranty (which can be created, Hardigree says, when employees make claims such as “this is a bed bug-free property”)
Hardigree makes recommendations that business owners:
- know the law relating to bed bugs
- have an action plan (she describes how hotels should know what to do when a guest complains of bed bug bites)
- train employees to detect bed bugs (and reward them for doing so; some hotels give cash payments for room attendants who report evidence of bed bugs)
- know how bed bugs work (for example, bite marks may appear after hotel guests return home; hotels need to know this can be legitimate)
Hardigree says most people sue because their complaints are not taken seriously, because “nobody validated their concerns or their fears.” This comes up often if you read accounts of people who sued over bed bugs (see these articles for examples). It is an intuitive point, but I suspect many business owners and managers miss it completely.
It’s a brief interview, and there are some things missing which seem important to me. First, while Hardigree describes steps hotel owners should take (as part of their action plan) to contain an infestation once reported, she does not go into the issue of people who don’t just get bitten by bed bugs in a hotel, but take them home. This does not happen every time, but it happens a lot.
Moreover, Hardigree does not discuss the fact that many people simply do not react to bed bug bites. Jerome Goddard has said the percentage who do not react to bed bug bites may be as high as 70%. This is an important fact for business owners to recognize, since they may have complaints from people who do not ever show bite reactions, but who may nevertheless bring bed bugs home.
One thing I was concerned about: Hardigree rightly notes that hotel managers need to be aware that guests may call to complain about bed bugs “three to four days” after returning home. (Actually, some of the literature claims bed bug bites can appear as much as nine days later.) And yet later, she says that when hotel managers have a bed bug complaint, one of the things they should do is photograph the guests’ bed bug bite marks. Not just to see which areas of the body have bite marks, but also to see where they do not have bites, because later the guest may claim to have had bed bug bites from head to toe.
There’s an inconsistency there. Bed bug bites can appear later, if they appear at all. If someone is bitten in a hotel room it is quite possible for them to show some evidence of bites sustained during the visit, and to have additional bites appear later, because of the possibility of delayed reactions Hardigree describes. So photographic proof of the bites which are present when the complaint is made does not constitute proof of the extent of the reaction the person may suffer from the bites.
All in all, the nine and a half minute interview is very interesting listening, for consumers and business owners alike.
Note: the podcast of the discussion between Hardigree and Brad Harbison is here: (click here for PCT Podcast 5/29/2008). (Link changed and updated 12/20/2010.)
Thanks to Renee for the tip!