$15,000,000 in Bed Bug Settlements, Yet Much Work Remains
With a recent $75,000 settlement against a resort hotel, Whitney, LLP has now recovered over 15 million dollars in settlements for victims of bed bugs. This milestone was achieved for clients harmed by bed bugs in various settings such as hotels, apartments and hospitals.
Unfortunately, despite well established best practices for control and elimination of this hated insect, landlords and hotel owners, operators and franchisors continue to take the short-sighted view and fail to implement a bed bug policy to protect their tenants and guests. Instead, bed bug complaints from guests and tenants are often ignored.
A National Brand’s Continued Bed Bug Problems
Having recently reviewed guest complaints received by an iconic national brand hotel franchisor over a 10-year period (which a wise judge ordered be produced), it is shocking to learn of the continuing disregard of bed bug complaints. Such complaints are typically supported by references to guests capturing bed bugs in cups, photographs or video of bed bugs, photographs of bed bug bites and medical records documenting bed bug bites.
Why Guests Hate Bed Bugs
A traveler’s baseline expectation is a clean and infestation-free room. Below is a sample of a few recurring examples of the types of guest complaints:
- Guests walk into a room and, within minutes, see bed bugs crawling on the bed or walls, and check out immediately;
- Guests find hundreds of bed bugs in the bed;
- Guests are upset when they wake up covered in extremely itchy and/or painful bed bug bites, g., 500 bites, 100 bites, 90 bites, etc.;
- Guests go to the hospital and require medical attention due to severe allergic reaction or infected bites; and are prescribed drugs such as antibiotics, steroids (injected, oral and/or topical) and/or antihistamines;
- Guests are very disturbed and feel violated knowing bed bugs were crawling and feeding upon their bodies or those of their children, including babies, while they slept;
- Guests are humiliated by bites on the face, eyelids swollen shut, and by scars or dark spots left from the bites;
- Guests repeatedly describe their bed bug experience as the “worst hotel experience ever;” “horrifying ordeal;” “horrible;” “gross;” “disgusting” and “traumatizing”;
- Guests are angered, frustrated and insulted by hotel managers’ rude, dismissive, or accusatory behavior; in some cases even calling the police to remove the guest;
- Guests fear bringing bed bugs home; and are incensed when they must pay for extermination treatment of their home;
- Guests are angered by a ruined vacation and by other countless ruined occasions including travelers present for family reunions, funerals, anniversaries, job interviews, business meetings, studying for professional exams, etc.
- Guests end up sleeping in the parking lot;
- Guests are highly upset at having to find a new hotel or return home with their children in the middle of the night while exhausted;
- Guests feel the franchisor “passed the buck” back to the hotel that already ignored the guest, and never followed up to see what the hotel did about it;
- Guests feel completely misled by the national brand franchisor name attached to the hotel and by the franchisor website depicting clean rooms;
- Guests feel that it is obvious the franchisor values profit over customer treatment;
- Guests inquire “What have you done to eradicate this problem?”;
- Guests report that the hotel manager admitted there was a bed bug problem, but the hotel continues to rent the rooms to guests; and
- Guests implore the franchisor to fix the problem so the next guest does not get bit.
The Pattern of Indifference
These complaints have fallen on deaf ears. Despite receiving many thousands of bed bug complaints like these from guests of its franchised hotels, the franchisor routinely accepts at face value the local manager’s implausible explanations for the bed bug complaints, and its methods for responding to guests and their bed bug complaints. The following are a few recurring examples of how hotel managers responded to guest bed bug complaints:
- As to about 25% of the reports, the managers claim that guests are liars or scammers trying to get a free room;
- Managers make themselves unavailable to speak with the guest;
- Claim the guest found and/or was bitten by other insects;
- Act rude or very rude and/or attempt to intimidate the guest;
- Call the police to remove the complaining guest from the premises;
- Put the guest on a “Do Not Rent” list, i.e., blackballing the guest from the hotel;
- Falsely blame the guest for bringing the bed bugs;
- Contrary to the Clean Room Standard, inform the guest that bed bugs are not a sign the room is unclean or unsanitary;
- Perform a one-minute “inspection” or an “inspection” that did not include the mattress, linens or bed frame which is where the guest found bed bugs;
- Merely switch the linens;
- Have the front desk clerk spray the room or have maintenance “heat treat;”
- Provide the guest with a cleaning product to deal with the bed bugs;
- Switch the guest to another infested room;
- Immediately rent the infested room to another guest;
- Deny responsibility because “bed bugs are an issue everywhere”;
- Threaten legal action against a guest for a social media posting of the bed bug encounter;
- Threaten to fire employees to prevent guests from being informed of bed bugs;
- Refuse to pay a hotel maintenance employee who refused to work in a bed bug infested room;
- Fail to arrange a prompt site inspection to verify compliance with the Clean Room Standard;
- Offer a partial discount for a future stay, or Customer Loyalty points; and rarely offer a room refund; and
- Encourage the destruction of evidence through a problem resolution standard which requires franchisees to retain guest or employee reports of housekeeping or maintenance problems for only 30 days.
The bed bug reports arrive daily, usually several a day, and accumulate like clockwork at the rate of about a hundred reports every several months. Despite obvious, predictable patterns in those reports, the approach was and continues to be to view each report in a vacuum. Each report is viewed in complete isolation from other similar reports. The willful ignorance is calculated. By design, rather than resolve the complaint and remedy the root cause of the problem, the national brand franchisor merely recycles the complaint back to the very person who previously ignored or threatened the guest; and accepts at face value the general manager’s implausible denial of bed bugs and completely disregards the guest’s evidence of bed bugs and bed bug bites.
The well-known national brand hotel franchisor thereby continually and knowingly subjects guests to predictable harm in the very hotels it markets to the public as providing clean and safe rooms. Despite claiming that it “takes bed bugs seriously,” it is abundantly clear that the franchisor’s statement is mere lip service.
Punitive Damages Are Needed
Hotels, including national brand franchisors, need to be held accountable. In order to punish and deter such misconduct, an award of punitive damages would seem fitting for a hospitality company that callously disregards the well-being of its guests.
Attorneys for Bed Bug Claims – Whitney, LLP
If you have experienced bed bug bites at a hotel, contact the attorneys at Whitney, LLP.
We have experience representing clients in cases against negligent and deceptive hotel franchisors and franchisees. In many cases, after a lawsuit is filed, we are able to obtain extensive bed bug complaint records that show the hotel knew they had a bed bug problem and did not take proper action.
By obtaining evidence that a hotel ignored their guests’ bed bug complaints, the hotel faces increased liability and exposure, which increases the value of our clients’ cases.
- Click here to read about some of Whitney, LLP’s prior bed bug settlements and verdicts;
- Click here to read more of Whitney, LLP’s blogs about bed bug legal issues.
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