Bed Bug Legal Considerations for Hospitality

Bed Bug Standard of Care and Legal Considerations for Hospitality

The experts agree, if you don’t have a proactive bed bug prevention program, you won’t have a good defense in court.  After all, in our litigious society, it is only a matter of time before a situation arises and a guest files a bed bug complaint.  To manage it well, a few key items must be in place prior to the occurrence:

  • Well trained front desk staff on how to handle the situation
  • A relationship with a pest control company, that are experts in bed bugs and their removal, to get rid of them fast and effectively

However, if a problem does escalate to a lawsuit or formal claim it is imperative that the following was established BEFORE the incident in question:

  • The hotel has a proactive program in place that includes:
    1. Regular inspections of all rooms for bed bugs
    2. Written protocol that employees are trained on, tested on and it is followed
    3. Formal training for housekeeping on what to look for, where to look for evidence, and a reporting process of rooms of concern. Documentation that training and testing has all occurred for every employee.  The same applies for all maintenance, front desk and management staff.  Training needs to occur for all current and future staff.
  • Management must be fully aware of the status of their rooms. The hotel must keep excellent pest control records outlining every inspection and treatment performed in every room.
  • The hotel defines “infested room” as 1 live bed bug or 1 live bed bug egg. Rooms with known active issues are NEVER released to sales for booking.
  • Bed bug infestations are handled swiftly – no longer than 24 hours to inspect and 1 week to treat (generally accepted, not code). All active rooms have a full 360 degree inspection of the adjacent rooms to confirm that the infestation has not spread.
  • A chronic bed bug problem in a room calls for different treatment methods, than previously employed, to fully exterminate the infestation.
  • Rooms are re-inspected following treatment to confirm eradication of bed bugs
  • Treatments are performed by a fully trained and licensed professional pest control company. There is too much documented evidence that bed bugs are not a do-it-yourself pest. In-house treatments will represent an inadequate effort to exterminate.

The plaintiff’s lawyer will focus on the following areas in a bed bug lawsuit:

  • Negligence – Lack of Compliance to the International Property Maintenance Code (Section 309)
    1. Property kept free from pests
    2. Pests promptly removed
    3. Precautions put in place to prevent future infestations (proactive inspections)
  • Consumer Protection
    1. Misrepresentation/Fraud– property not fit for habitation
    2. Non-disclosure of a known problem
  • Battery – the hotel put something into motion that caused harm to a person’s body or neglected to stop something that caused physical harm to a guest.

Georgia Law contains the following ruling established in 1961:

The innkeeper has a duty to inspect and is liable for such injuries caused by defects as would be disclosed by a reasonable inspection. Johnson v. John Deere Plow Co., 214 Ga. 645, 647 (106 SE2d 901) Hillinghorst v. Heart of Atlanta Motel, 104 Ga. App. 731, 1961 Ga. App. LEXIS 784 (Ga. Ct. App., October 4, 1961, Decided ).

  • Because a massive infestation present in a hotel room can be disclosed if there is a reasonable inspection by hotel staff, Georgia law finds hotels liable for bedbug injuries to their hotel guests. By Williams Oinonen, LLC.

Once a guest has filed a claim, many hotels try to fight them.  However, the following are defenses that don’t typically protect the hotel:

  1. Ignorance – willful ignorance is usually considered knowledge of the problem, commonly referred to as the “Ostrich” defense (head in the sand)
    1. A subset of this defense is to “wash hands of the issue” and move blame to the pest control provider who did not fix the problem – “I hired a professional, it is his responsibility. I don’t know anything about pest control.”  The counter to this is: “You don’t know anything about plumbing either but you know when a faucet is leaking.” Management must have oversight over their pest control company.
  • Blame of consumer for problem – “they brought it in” – if there is ANY evidence in the room or adjacent rooms of an infestation or any of the rooms have a history of being infested, then consumer blame will be hard to prove
    1. However detailed records of past inspections will provide the needed history and proof of due diligence for a good defense

In the end, the challenge we face in the hospitality industry is that the “Standard of Care” for a hotel will ultimately be defined by a jury.  So in any bed bug case the Jury will ask the following:

“Bed bugs are a known issue in hotels, did this hotel do everything in its power (what was reasonable) to protect the consumer or did they cut corners?  If so, was it intentional or unintended?  Did the consumer suffer needlessly?”  The answers to these questions will determine the multiplier for punitive damages.

The best defense is to be proactive and detailed in your inspections, training, documentation and follow through.  If you would like to know more on how Red Coat can assist your property or ownership company with a proactive bed bug prevention program, please contact John Marratt at 404-665-3985 or jmarratt@redcoatservices.com.

DISCLOSURE: I am NOT an attorney nor do I position myself as such.  Our knowledge of bed bug law is through formal pest control training and the guidance of other vested parties.  We share this information with you as a professional courtesy, all information should be reviewed with your own legal advisers prior to acting upon it.

 

May the Heat Be With You!

Ashley, Atlanta Bed Bug Control Specialist

 

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