Bed Bugs and the Innkeeper’s Duty of Care

Charles J. Nucciarone, Esquire
January 13th, 2020
By: Charles J. Nucciarone, Esquire

Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland were recently named as the top two cities for bed bug infestations by Orkin Pest Management, with multiple other cities in Virginia earning similar distinction (https://www.orkin.com/press-room/orkins-2020-bed-bug-cities). Associate Charles J. Nucciarone recently represented a small hotel in a negligence claim by two plaintiffs for damages resulting from bed bug infestation. In their negligence suit, the plaintiffs claimed that the defendant hotel’s negligence had caused the bed bug infestation and, ultimately, the plaintiffs’ injuries and other damages.

At trial, the plaintiffs presented evidence of bed bug presence, their injuries, and other damages. Charles’s motion to strike the plaintiffs’ evidence was denied at mid-trial. The defense then presented evidence of the hotel’s policies and procedures with regard to housekeeping, room cleanings, pest control, and bed bug prevention, detection, and elimination. Hotel employees and management also testified about the actions taken with regard to the specific room in which the plaintiffs had stayed. The defense also offered an expert witness to educate the court and jury about bed bugs and render an opinion regarding the hotel’s policies and procedures. After the defense evidence concluded, Charles renewed the defense motion to strike.

In the renewed motion, Charles laid out all of the elements of a negligence claim: 1) duty, 2) breach, 3) causation, and 4) damages. Charles focused on element #2. He argued that the plaintiff had not presented any evidence that could convince the jury that the hotel policies and procedures were inadequate or that the policies and procedures had not been followed in this particular instance. The plaintiff argued that the presence of bed bugs and the hotel’s ownership of the premises was sufficient to infer negligence – a legal doctrine called res ipsa loquitor. Charles responded by pointing out that even though the hotel owned the premises, it did not have exclusive control over the room as guests checked in and out of the premises regularly. The court was ultimately persuaded by Charles’s argument and granted his motion to strike because the plaintiff set forth no evidence that could lead the jury to conclude that the hotel failed to meet the innkeeper’s standard of care.

As bed bugs become more and more commonplace, it’s important to note that the mere presence of bed bugs does not necessarily mean that the owner of the premises was negligent. A full examination of pest control practices must be undertaken to determine liability.

Disclaimer

This blog and the information provided has been prepared by Bancroft, McGavin, Horvath & Judkins, P.C. (“BMHJ”) for information purposes only and is not intended nor to be construed as legal advice. This blog may contain the opinions of the members and associates of this firm on various legal issues and is not legal advice. Read More