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5 challenges to suing for bedbug bites in California

Posted by Neil Shouse | Apr 25, 2018 | 0 Comments

California law allows people to sue if they are bitten by bedbugs while renting property or staying in a hotel.To recover damages, the guest will usually need to prove that:

  • The owner of the property knew or was on notice of a bedbug infestation,
  • The owner failed to take reasonable steps to eradicate it, and
  • As a result of such failure, the guest suffered damages.

Once the guest proves these elements, he or she can recover damages. Such damages can include:

  • Medical bills,
  • Psychological counseling,
  • Pain and suffering,
  • Emotional distress  or anxiety,
  • Property damage, 
  • Refund of the costs of staying at the property, and
  • The costs of eradicating an infestation.

In very serious cases, a jury may even award punitive damages. For instance, one family was awarded $1.6 million in a California bedbug lawsuit.

But not all lawsuits are successful or lead to a large award of damages.

The 5 difficulties in California bedbug lawsuits

There are five major problems in recovering damages for bed bug bites at rental properties or hotels:

  1. The guest usually needs to prove that the property owner knew about the infestation. But bedbug infestations often go undetected. So even if the bedbugs did come from the property, the owner or landlord might not be liable.
  2. Proving where someone picked up bedbugs or bites can be difficult. Travelers. in particular, typically pass through other places where bedbugs might be hiding. Contrary to popular belief, bedbugs can survive on airplanes.
  3. In the case of short-term rentals through Airbnb or similar sites, bedbug bites are usually not covered by the owner's homeowners' insurance policy. Nor are they covered by Airbnb itself. So people bitten by bedbugs at an Airbnb rental must usually look directly to the homeowner for damages.
  4. If the renter was on notice that the property had bedbugs, any award of damages might be reduced under California's “comparative negligence” law. A renter might be considered "on notice" if he/she knew about the infestation (and did nothing) or if there were reviews of the property on the internet that mentioned bedbugs. It would all depend on whether the judge or jury thinks a reasonable person would have known about the infestation.
  5. There is a risk of a countersuit if the property owner thinks the renter was actually responsible for the infestation. But, as discussed above, proving the source of a bedbug infestation is difficult. Just because a property owner countersues it does not mean the renter will lose the case.

What should I do if I have been bitten by bedbugs at a hotel or rental property?

People considering a lawsuit for bedbug bites in California should take certain steps as soon as they are bitten:

  • Immediately notify the property owner,
  • Save all documents relating to the rental,
  • Take photos of the premises (especially collections of debris) and any bugs found on the property,
  • Take photos of the bites,
  • Get medical bills and doctor's notes of findings (if applicable), and
  • If applicable and possible, establish that the person took reasonable precautions to avoid bedbugs while traveling -- such as using a hard-shelled suitcase or wrapping all suitcases in a trash bag.

Call an experienced California personal injury lawyer for help

Many bedbug claims can be resolved in small claims court. 

But for serious injuries or when many people are injured, retaining a California personal injury lawyer is crucial.

An experienced California bedbug lawyer can help determine what parties may be liable for bedbug injuries and what assets are available to cover damages.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).

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