Arundel, Maryland woman awarded $225,000 in jury trial

by nobugsonme on March 10, 2012 · 6 comments

in bed bug lawsuits, bed bugs, furniture

Adarien Jackson, a Maryland mother, was awarded $225,000 in a jury trial this week, after her family allegedly got bed bugs from a pair of wooden-frame beds she bought for her sons from a furniture retailer.

baltimoresun.com reports,

On Thursday, a jury ordered Calidad Furniture & Linen Inc., the store that sold Jackson a pair of wood-frame beds, to pay Jackson and her sons $225,000 for the ordeal. It is one of the largest bedbug liability judgments in the country.

It sounds like the two beds were delivered soon after the family bought the home from Jackson’s mother. “Within weeks,” skin reactions began for one of the two twin boys. The second twin began reacting a few months later, and bed bugs were discovered in October.

photo of twin beds in a boys' room

Photo credit: istockphoto.com

That the case went to court at all was unusual. According to the Baltimore Sun, most bed bug cases fade away with settlements rather than going to court.

And not only did the case go to a jury trial, but the jury also awarded $75,000 more than the plaintiff was seeking.

A jury of six women deliberated for 30 minutes before finding in favor of Jackson.

Jackson had only sought $150,000 in damages. That an Anne Arundel County jury raised the stakes is rare, Whitney said. County juries are known for being conservative with damage awards, he said.

Jackson’s award is the second-largest known to [Jackson’s attorney Daniel Whitney] or Tom Campbell, an Alabama attorney who takes a large number of bedbug cases. In what is thought to be one of the largest judgments of bedbug liability, two siblings who sued a Motel 6 in Chicago were awarded $382,000 in 2002.

The generous award suggests the six-woman jury was especially sympathetic to the plaintiff’s story.

Follow these links to read about more bed bug lawsuits or that aforementioned Motel 6 case.

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1 so unsettling March 11, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Just curious as to how we are expected to react to this. I don’t know the details of the case, but doubt that it would much matter if I did. My own sense is that this is not especially good news for people fighting with bedbugs, and simply conjures up the dread of being blamed and points to more ignorance about how these things spread.

Also, what are businesses suppose to do about these things? Wrap everything up for a year, on the possibility that there might be bugs in them, and then open them for sale on the belief that anything that was in them might be dead? Also, why would they be on these beds? From the truck? Bedbugs don’t wander around furniture stores looking for a place to sleep; they go where people are sleeping already. They aren’t after beds, they are after people.

Sometimes lawsuits help to promote important changes in social or business practices by making bad behavior very expensive. I honestly don’t know how it works in this bedbug mess, where everyone is a victim and no one knows from whence the bugs came or whither they go. What are businesses supposed to do to protect themselves against such suits, except to bring business to a halt? This is all madness.

2 nobugsonme March 12, 2012 at 3:40 am

Hi so unsettling,

You ask some very good questions. The short answer is that I am not sure how we should react. I was sharing the story here because I think it is of interest. However, leaving behind my own concerns about the overly-litigious society we live in, and assuming that such cases are at least sometimes worthwhile or warranted, I still have mixed feelings about cases like this.

We know, generally speaking, it can be very hard to determine where bed bugs “came from” and “who infested whom” in a particular situation, and there are lots of questions which come to my mind when I read the article about this case.

Not having read access to the court documents, it really is not clear to me if a case was made which proves in any way that the house did not have bed bugs before the plaintiff moved in (which happened, according to the article, at around the same time the beds were brought in), or that bed bugs were not brought in from another location before or after the furniture was delivered, for example. I am not sure a judge would call on an attorney to make such a case, but these do seem like relevant questions and the answers would seem to be hard to prove in many cases (again, speaking generally).

The article said suspected bite reactions began to occur a few weeks after the beds were brought in — this does not itself prove a cause-and-effect scenario. If bed bugs were theoretically brought in by some other introduced item (say, a person’s bag), or were present in the room already in small numbers, wouldn’t they still have harbored on the newly introduced beds?

I say all this fully aware that there may be information in the case which rules out these various possibilities, but I bring them up because they are questions which come to mind for those of us who know something about bed bugs, how hard they can be to detect, and how unreliable bites are as a sign of their presence or the duration of their presence.

We also don’t know what precautions this store was taking, if any, to prevent bed bugs being spread. You are correct that a delivery truck offers possibilities for spreading bed bugs depending on the firm’s practices. Returned items are also risky for the next buyer.

I do think furniture sellers can — and should — do certain things to prevent the spread of bed bugs. For example, some seem to still deliver furniture and beds in the same trucks they use to haul away used beds from customers. That seems like a great way to contaminate new items before delivery.

Other stores receive returned items and resell them but don’t treat them in any way. They really need to have reliable methods in place (such as heat treatment of a truck, Vikane pod fumigation) to eliminate bed bugs which may have come from customers’ homes.

To consider these issues more broadly, some furniture rental stores and mattress resellers — arguably those operations most at risk of having bed bugs in their stock — seem to be operating with no other means of de-bugging used items than spritzing them with Steri-fab (which as I understand is just a step above a contact kill spray), or doing nothing at all. I don’t think they’re doing everything they should by a long shot, speaking generally. As far as I gather, most probably do no more and no less than the law requires. And the laws are often not sufficient.

A well-aimed lawsuit or two might do a lot to change such a situation. But so could consumer protection legislation.

In this case, I suspect the jury was freaked out by the story and hoping to send a message to furniture sellers. Whether stores will identify and change any practices which they should change is a good question. If they do, there will surely be costs involved, and this will affect consumers.

It’s clear to me we don’t have all the facts about this one. I have searched for information and found limited information in the Maryland Circuit Court website, but full information on the case is not currently available online.

3 cilecto March 12, 2012 at 9:45 am

NoBugs, why do you consider this verdict “generous”?

Depending on circumstances, a bed bug infestation can be devastatingly disruptive. Besides the cash to pest control, there’s the labor for repeated prep, potentially lost property, loss of time, disrupted social life, impacted grades at school, impacted performance at work and on and on. It can take months or years to fully recover. Is $225,000 really excessive for such a situation? I would guess that this verdict includes both compensatory (ie, how much this hurt the plaintiff) and punitive (teach you a lesson for doing the wrong thing). A judge may reduce the amount. The defendant can negotiate downward in exchange for not appealing, plus there’s his ability/willingness to pay. I’d guess that at the end of the day, the Jackson family will be lucky to see $50,000.

I did some Googling for the location and found an interesting article on “Patch.com”.
http://elkridge.patch.com/articles/elkridge-retailer-fined-225-000-in-bedbug-lawsuit#photo-9303085 From the appearances in the photo, this looks like the store that does “liquidations”, a patchwork of furniture, and (tellingly) re-cycled mattresses. I see these stores in neighborhoods all over New York and gather that they exist in other metro areas. Their MO seems to be furniture on display outside the store and usually a recycled mattress or two leaned up against a wall. On the basis of the recycled mattresses, I’d consider anything out of these stores or off their trucks as “suspect”. The Patch story hints that Calidad has gone out of business and owes money to various parties.

Ironically, the furniture store’s neighbor is the “US 1 Flea Market”.

4 nobugsonme March 12, 2012 at 10:47 am

Hi Cilecto,

I noted that the judgment was “generous” only because the Baltimore Sun quoted the plaintiff’s lawyer as saying how rare it was for a jury to up the stakes, awarding as it did 50% more than the plaintiff asked for. I did not mean that it was a inappropriate amount, not at all.

I was not aware that the plaintiff is likely to get much less than the award (and given what you’ve noted about the state of the business, this seems even more likely).

Good sleuthing — I agree that the type of store this is makes me very suspicious of their practices. This is the kind of information I was referring to when I said we did not have all the facts in this case. We still don’t, but this is an interesting and telling puzzle piece, indeed.

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