The recent surge in bed bugs has created an uptick in litigation against motel owners and landlords alike.Â duLac’s article focuses on a Maryland attorney who is filing a series
of bed bug liability suits.Â Â TheÂ typical compensatory damages claim is $200,000, and many of the suits claim punies.Â Â Bed bugÂ suits, in Maryland and elsewhere, generally face three major issues.
First, plaintiff will have to prove notice on the part of the motel owner or landlord.Â Actual notice is best, but constructive notice should suffice.Â For constructive notice, the focus will be the length of time the condition (bed bugs) has been in place.Â The Maryland suits contain mostlyÂ conclusory allegations, so discovery will be important.
Second, plaintiff will have to establish compensatory damages.Â Bed bugs are nasty creatures, and I have a lot of sympathy for people impacted by them.Â Plaintiffs in Mathias got a jury verdict for compensatory damages of $5,000.Â A Florida attorney quotedÂ in duLac’s article is leaving the bed bug liability field because the damages are too small.Â He noted that he settled one case for $4,000 and another for $10,000.
Finally, a fairly standard punies regime requires a plaintiff to prove some type of conscious and deliberate behavior on the part of the defendant.Â In Mathias, the hotel owners were informed about the bed bugs.Â Instead of paying for a $500 extermination, the owners allowed the bed bug situation to fester for nearly two years.Â It was widely known the hotel had bed bugs.Â There were certain rooms that employees were not supposed to rent out because of the bugs, yet the rooms were rented if there were not enough otherÂ rooms available.Â Guests were informed the bugs were ticks (as if that’s better!).Â Under these circumstances, the court upheld aÂ punies verdict of $186,000.Â Â IfÂ proving noticeÂ in the Maryland cases will require theÂ discovery of significant facts, for puniesÂ the bar is even higher.