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Can I sue Airbnb if I was bitten by bedbugs during a stay in California?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Jan 22, 2019 | 0 Comments

California law allows people to sue if they are bitten by bedbugs while renting property or staying in a hotel. But the right to sue is against the property owner.

To date, there have been no successful claims against Airbnb itself for bedbug bites or infestations. Airbnb does not appear to have a legal duty to people who book a property through their website.

But in recent years, various jurisdictions have started cracking down on Airbnb and other short-term online rental companies. So far, proposed regulations have been geared toward limiting the number of short-term stays a property owner is allowed.

It's a sign, however, of the growing power of such companies. And it's not a leap to think that a court might be willing to hold Airbnb liable if it continues to list properties after being notified of problems with bedbugs.

What is a homeowner's duty to a renter under California bedbug law?

California law is clear on the duty of a property owner to keep rental premises free of bedbug infestations.

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.

 

How do I prove I got bedbugs from a rental property?

Proving where a bedbug infestation came from can be tricky.

In order to prevail in a lawsuit, someone bitten by bedbugs should:

  • 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 possible, establish that the person's own home was free of bedbugs (for instance, with evidence of a recent inspection by a pest control company).
Cluttered basement filled with messy, scattered belongings
Photos of cluttered rooms may help establish liability for bedbug bites in California

What damages can I recover for bedbug bites in California?

Damages renters of Airbnb properties can sue for in California include:

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

Can I recover punitive damages for bedbug bites?

California permits recovery of punitive damages for bedbug bites. But they are typically awarded only when:

The owner has actual notice of an infestation, and
The owner takes no action to warn renters or to eradicate the infestation.

Punitive damages are more common in California when someone is bitten by bedbugs at a hotel or large rental complex.
How does California's comparative negligence law apply to bedbug bites?
One way someone might prove that bedbugs came from the property is by reviews on Airbnb or other review sites.
But this can also backfire. If such evidence was on the internet before the person stayed at the property, a judge or jury might conclude the renter was on notice.
California follows a “comparative negligence” standard. Under this standard a judge or jury can allocate negligence between the parties to a lawsuit.
This means that an award of damages can be reduced by the percentage that the renter is deemed responsible for his or her injuries.
Can the property owner sue me?
Technically, yes. Tenants in California have a legal duty to keep premises they rent clean and sanitary.
So a property owner might counterclaim and blame the infestation on the tenant.
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.
Talk to a California injury lawyer
Many bedbug suits are small in nature and can be easily addressed in small claims court.
But for serious injuries or when many people are injured, a California personal injury lawyer can help.

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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