If you were bitten by bed bugs at a hotel, motel or other rented property, you can bring a premises liability lawsuit against the owners and operators. You generally need to prove that they knew there was a bed bug infestation and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent or eradicate it.
Damages you can sue for in bed bug lawsuits include medical bills, counseling, pain and suffering, anxiety, other out-of-pocket expenses and possibly punitive damages. If you are a renter, you can also ask the court to issue an injunction forcing your landlord to exterminate the bed bugs.1
Below our California personal injury attorneys discuss:
- 1. How much money can I win in a bed bug lawsuit?
- 2. What legal claims do I have?
- 3. What if I waived the right to sue for bed bugs?
- 4. Can I sue Airbnb or other short-term rental sites for bed bugs?
- 5. Can I sue if a guest or tenant brought bed bugs onto my property?
- 6. How do I know if I have been bitten by bed bugs?
- 7. How do I check for bed bugs?
- 8. What should I do if I have been bitten by bed bugs while away from home?
- Additional resources
The size of your bed bug case turns on:
- the number of bites,
- your physical and mental injuries, and
- whether the defendant was aware of the bed bug problem.
Bed bug litigation can yield hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensatory damages to cover your doctor’s expenses, physical and emotional distress, and lost wages from being too injured to work. Just in the summer of 2023, an arbitrator awarded $375,000 to a tourist bitten hundreds of times in a Hollywood Hills rental home.1
Back in 2017, a tenant in the Pacoima neighborhood of Los Angeles won a $465,600 jury verdict against his landlord who ignored his complaints even after a Los Angeles County Department of Environmental Health inspector cited the building for a bed bug issue.2
One of the larger verdicts also happened in 2017 when a Los Angeles jury awarded $3.5 million to 16 tenants of the Park La Brea apartment complex to compensate them for the sleeplessness, anxiety and humiliation at work the bed bug infestation caused them.3 The following year, a jury awarded $1.6 million to an Inglewood family victimized by bed bugs during their tenancy at Amusement Six Apartment LLC.4
One of the more modest settlements was in 2015 when Extended Stay America paid $8,500 to a woman and her daughter ravaged by bed bugs and lice at the company’s hotel in Ontario, California.5
1.1. Can I get punitive damages as well?
Courts can award you punitive damages – which are meant to punish the defendants rather than compensate you for your losses – if the defendant’s behavior was especially blameworthy. Under bed bug laws, punitive damages (also called “exemplary damages”) are typically awarded only when the landlord:
- had actual notice of an infestation, and
- took no action to warn tenants or to eradicate the infestation.6
An example is from 2017, when a jury awarded $546,500 to a family bitten by bed bugs during their stay at a hotel room in Rancho Cucamonga. Since the hotel owner allegedly knew about the problem and did not take adequate steps to fix it, the verdict included a $50,000 punitive damages award.7
The more bites that you have, the more likely that the property has been infested by bed bugs for a lengthy period of time. This, in turn, makes it easier to prove that the landlord knew about it and did nothing (or not enough) to correct it.
The typical grounds for bed bug claims are:
- Negligence 8
- Breach of the warranty of habitability 9
- Breach of contract 10
- Private nuisance 11
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress 12
- Fraud 13
You have the burden to prove the land owner/operator is liable by a preponderance of the evidence, which means that it is more likely than not that the defendant is at fault for your injuries.14 Our bed bug lawyers typically rely on such evidence as:
- video and photographs of the bed bugs and your bites
- eyewitness testimony of the bed bugs
- your medical records showing your physical and psychological trauma,
- expert witnesses about pest control (if necessary)
- records that show when the owners/operators discovered the problem and what measure (if any) they took to remediate
We can usually resolve cases in our clients’ favor through negotiation alone, which typically takes just a few months depending on whether the defendant accepts the blame. If necessary we are always prepared to take matters to a jury, though going to trial can take several years.
The most important thing is that you should never accept a first offer from an insurance company since they are always trying to low-ball you. Our bed bug attorneys know how to interact with insurance defense firms to achieve the maximum compensation possible under the law.
Under California law, a tenant cannot be required to waive the landlord’s duty of habitability. Since any purported “bed bug waiver” in a lease or rental agreement is therefore void and unenforceable, tenants can still get a bed bug settlement.15
If you stay in short-term rental properties (such as through Airbnb), you can sue the homeowner for bed bug bites. Though you will have a hard time recovering damages from the rental website.
Standard language in the contracts between short-term rental companies and property owners often excludes damages for bed bugs.
Although some rental sites — including Airbnb — offer “protection” policies to “hosts,” these policies do not cover damages from insects.20 Nor does Airbnb have a policy requiring a host to refund money in this situation.16
4.1. Doesn’t the host’s homeowner’s insurance cover bed bug damages?
Generally not. Most homeowners’ insurance policies do not cover “business activities” operated out of a single family home.
So while people who book a property through Airbnb can sue the homeowner directly, it will usually not be backed up by an insurer. This can make it difficult to recover damages, especially for someone from out of state.
Since tenants have a legal duty to keep premises clean and sanitary,17 you as the property owner can sue them for causing a bed bug infestation. Though because bed bug infestations often go undetected for long periods, proving that a particular tenant was responsible can be very challenging.18
Proving negligence involves you as the plaintiff to show four things:
- That the defendant owed you a duty of care;
- That the defendant was negligent;
- That the defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing you harm (“causation”); and
- That as a result the defendant suffered damages.19
In addition to any medical expenses and pain and suffering the bed bugs caused you, you may also have grounds to sue the tenant for property damage and the costs of eradicating an infestation.
Some humans show no reaction to being bitten by bed bugs other than two small dots where the bed bugs have punctured their skin. Those who are more sensitive may develop reddish bumps or lesions on their skin within 12 hours of being bitten.
Welts/lesions tend to swell and become itchy within 24 to 48 hours. If scratched, they can become infected. Fortunately, bed bugs are not known to transmit diseases.
In rare instances, people have experienced systemic allergic reactions to bed bug bites. Allergic reactions can include
- generalized hives, and
- anaphylactic shock.
In extreme cases, bed bug bites can cause keloid scars. A study conducted by scientists in Montreal also found a link between bed bug infestation and symptoms of sleep disturbances and anxiety.
Adult bed bugs are
- oval-shaped, and
- the size of an apple seed.
In general, bed bugs tend to feed in groups of three. After feeding on blood, bed bugs swell and turn reddish in color. Bed bugs hide when they are not feeding. If you see black dots on your sheets, they may be bed bug feces.
A dermatologist or other medical provider may be able to diagnose whether bed bugs caused your injuries.20
Look for the following signs:
- Rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses.
- Small, dark spots that “bleed” like a marker on fabric would.
- Eggs and eggshells.
- Pale yellow skins shed by immature bed bugs as they grow larger.
- Live bed bugs.
It is unlikely that you will catch a bed bug in the act of biting, and not just because they normally attack while you are sleeping. When they bite, bed bugs inject a substance that prevents you from feeling the bite.21
Experts recommend removing all bedding and the dust cover on the bottom of the box spring to check for bed bugs and signs of their excrement. They also advise checking the area around the bed, including books and electrical outlets.
Renters and hotel guests who have been bitten by bed bugs should take the following steps in order to preserve their right to make a claim:
- Take detailed pictures of the body part that has been bitten.
- Check the bedding, bed, and areas around the bed for the signs of bed bugs and take photos of any signs found.
- Check clothing and luggage and take photos of any bugs found.
- Notify the local health department.
- Get diagnosed by a dermatologist.
For additional information, refer to the following:
- CDC Bed Bugs Information – Official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public health information on bed bugs.
- Mayo Clinic Bed Bugs Diagnosis & Treatment – Overview of bed bugs from a leading academic medical center.
- EPA Bed Bugs – Environmental Protection Agency’s guide to preventing and managing bed bugs.
- WebMD Bed Bugs – Bed bug basics including symptoms, medical treatment, exterminators, and prevention.
- BedBug Registry – User-submitted reviews of bed bug reports by location.
Our law firm practices and offers legal advice throughout northern, central, and southern California including L.A., San Diego, Sacramento, and more.
- Salvador Hernandez, British tourist awarded $375,000 after suffering hundreds of bed bug bites at infested Hollywood Hills home, Los Angeles Times (July 26, 2023).
- Johnny Reynolds et al. v. 12300-12301 Osborne Place.
- Hugo Martin, Park La Brea apartments loses $3.5-million bedbug lawsuit, lawyer says, Los Angeles Times (December 16, 2017).
- Inglewood Family Wins $1.6M Jury Award In Bed Bugs Case, CBS Los Angeles (April 4, 2018).
- 49 Trial Digests 18th 22, 2015 WL 8483309.
- Civil Code 3294. See also Melissa Koenig, Disneyland Hotel in California pays woman $100,000 to settle lawsuits after she claimed she was bitten by bed bugs that caused serious rash on her ENTIRE body, Daily Mail (May 2, 2022)(the victim Disney paid was Dr. Ivy Eldridge).
- McKindra v. Heritage Inn of Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino Superior Court / CIVDS1502829 (2017).
- Civil Code section 1714(a): “Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person, except so far as the latter has, willfully or by want of ordinary care, brought the injury upon himself or herself…” See also California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 400. Negligence—Essential Factual Elements. Stone v. Center Trust Retail Properties, Inc. (2008) 163 Cal. App. 4th 608.
- Green v. Superior Court, (1974) 10 Cal.3d 616. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/habitable. Cal. Civ. Code § 1941.1. Erlach v. Sierra Asset Servicing LLC, (2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 1281, 173 Cal. Rptr. 3d 159. Johnny Reynolds et al. v. 12300-12301 Osborne Place.
- See, for example, Brandon & Tibbs v. George Kevorkian Accountancy Corp. (1990) 226 Cal.App.3d 442. Oasis West Realty LLC v. Goldman (2011) 51 Cal.4th 811.
- Civil Code 3479: “Anything which is injurious to health, including, but not limited to, the illegal sale of controlled substances, or is indecent or offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property, or unlawfully obstructs the free passage or use, in the customary manner, of any navigable lake, or river, bay, stream, canal, or basin, or any public park, square, street, or highway, is a nuisance.” See also CACI 2021. Private Nuisance—Essential Factual Elements.
- Civil Code 3294. CACI 1600. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress—Essential Factual Elements.
- Anderson v. Deloitte & Touche (Court of Appeal of California, First Appellate District, Division Five, 1997) 56 Cal. App. 4th 1468.
- CACI 200. Obligation to Prove—More Likely True Than Not True.
- California Civil Code 1953.
- Airbnb tips blogs – beware of the bedbugs!
- Civil Code 1941.2(a)(1).
- See for example, Bedbug Central, How Do I Know I Have Bed Bugs?
- See endnote 8.
- Mayo Clinic, bedbugs symptoms and causes. The Bed Bugs Handbook. Susser, Perron, Fournier, Jacques, Denis, Tessier and Roberge, Mental health effects from urban bed bug infestation (Cimex lectularius L.): a cross-sectional study.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Bed Bugs FAQ.