Bed Bugs at Overnight Summer Camps: Child Safety Tips

Overnight summer camps and campgrounds make cherished memories for countless children every summer — or at least, they’re supposed to.  If a camp’s recreational facilities, bunking quarters, or even old sports equipment is infested by bed bugs, those cherished memories can turn into itchy, painful nightmares instead.  Not only can bed bug bites ruin your child’s summer camp experience (and waste your hard-earned money) — even more alarmingly, they can also expose your child to serious health risks.  In this blog post, our bed bug lawyers will talk about why camps make ideal breeding grounds, offer tips on ways to protect your child’s safety, and address who is considered liable for injuries and related medical expenses.  Whitney, LLP has successfully represented parents and their children against bed bug infested summer camps and campgrounds.

Why Are Bed Bugs a Problem at Summer Camps?

When you picture a summer camp, what do you think of?  You’re probably imagining  weathered wood cabins, rows of old bunk beds, big boxes of sporting equipment, and rows of canoes and life jackets waiting out the winter in dusty storage sheds.  While these sights and smells seem dreamy and nostalgic, they’re also the perfect breeding ground for bed bugs.

Contrary to popular belief fueled by their own name, bed bugs are adaptable opportunists and can make cozy homes in all kinds of nooks, crannies, and crevices.  Our attorneys have worked on cases where bed bugs were discovered to be present in carpets, curtain rods, electronic appliances, and even walls and ceilings.  In fact, bed bugs are such adept climbers they will sometimes scale walls for the express purpose of dropping down onto their victims.  Scary campfire stories pale in comparison to that sort of experience.

Furthermore, since most overnight camps remain closed for the off-season, bed bug populations can go undisturbed for months, breeding and growing all the while.  Unlike many other bugs and insects, bed bugs are surprisingly temperature-resistant, and have been known to survive temperatures near freezing.  In fact, our attorneys discourage against using the popular yet generally ineffective “treatment” of freezing bed bugs to death.  In the vast majority of cases, trying to kill bed bugs with low temperatures simply doesn’t yield results.

Add dozens if not hundreds of old bunk bed mattresses crammed into confined quarters into this already risky equation, and it’s easy to see how summer camps can create the perfect recipe for bed bug infestations.

So what can you actually do about it?

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Tips for Protecting Your Child’s Safety

As the adage goes, “prevention is the best medicine.”  This maxim applies to bed bugs as well.  While you cannot control what occurs at the summer camp, you can take certain steps to help safeguard your child against becoming a victim of bed bugs.

You should strongly consider purchasing heavy-duty plastic bags to seal your child’s clothing and belongings. This does not simply mean “buy garbage bags,” which will not be effective.  Instead, you should look for specially labeled bed bug sealing bags which are designed to protect mattresses and clothing from exposure. These bags can cost anywhere from about $10 to upwards of $45 or $50.  Not only does quarantining materials in sealing bags help keep bed bugs out — but if any do get in, it will be easier to keep them contained so that they may be quickly disposed of before a home or apartment infestation develops.  While sealing bags are not a guarantee, they can dramatically reduce the risks.

You should also familiarize yourself with the warning signs of a bed bug infestation so that you can perform a personal assessment when you drop your child off at the camp.  Look for signs like a sweet or musty odor, brown stains on bunk bed mattresses, and shed skins from bed bug molts.

If you notice any of these signs, address your concerns with a senior camp counselor immediately.  Of course, taking a proactive approach and asking the camp manager before the summer camp even begins whether the camp has a history of bed bug infestation may save time and money for you, and prevent a terrible experience for your child.

Remember, summer camps have a duty of care to protect their campers’ safety.  If camp personnel allow infestations to develop, and fail to intervene with a licensed pest control company, they may be considered negligent.  In general terms, negligence means failure to anticipate and/or correct foreseeable and/or existing safety hazards, resulting in serious personal injury to a victim.

woodsy cabin campground

Who is Liable? Can I File a Lawsuit?

This brings us to an important point: if your child does come home with bites, who is considered liable?  Can you file a lawsuit?

Of course, the details of each case will vary.  However, generally speaking, summer camps may be held liable for injuries resulting from the camp’s negligence to maintain safe and sanitary conditions for the campers.  For obvious reasons, overnight camps and individual counselors will typically try to deny liability, which only underscores the importance of having experienced legal counsel on your side.

It is also important to work with a bed bug attorney because he or she can call on medical experts to better demonstrate the severity of your child’s injuries.  Many individuals and organizations take a somewhat dismissive attitude when it comes to the true seriousness of bed bug bites, with even the American Camp Association claiming that “bed bugs, while gross and irritating… do not transmit disease.”

Claims that bed bugs cannot transmit disease are false.  In 2009, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an article showing that bed bugs can carry a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi. This parasite is known to transmit hepatitis B and Chagas Disease — both of which can be fatal.  In 2014, researchers at Penn State confirmed that bed bugs can transmit the parasite that causes Chagas Disease.

If your child is bitten by bed bugs while staying at a summer camp or campground this season, the experienced attorneys of Whitney, LLP may be able to help.  To set up a free and confidential case evaluation, call our law offices today at (410) 583-8000.