Thursday, July 15, 2004

Bedbug blog.

This came in over the electronic transom today, perhaps because I’ve been known to write articles about the apartment market. Just one more thing to worry about, it seems.

“Dear Mr. Stribling [at least they got the gender correct]:

“The traditional bedtime warning to not let the bedbugs bite may have more credence than you think.

“These nocturnal pests are making a comeback in American homes -- and recently in American news coverage. Bedbugs were recently featured on CNN, CNBC and ABC News and in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune and Good Housekeeping. … The small, flat bugs have proven themselves resilient pests because of their nocturnal habits and elusive size -- bedbugs can be transported through luggage and moving boxes from one property to another. But there are steps homeowners, property managers, and landlords can take to address bedbug infestations successfully.

“Please let me know if you are interested in covering the return of bedbugs through an interview with Cindy Mannes, Director of Public Affairs for the National Pest Management Association or through a bylined article from the association.”

Bedbugs! So far, this scourge has bypassed our house. But a brief Web search makes me think that there’s more going on that fear-mongering by the pest control industry, or swamp gas passing through the media. Various reputable authorities have noted an uptick in bedbug infestations in the civilized world lately.

Which not only causes itching, but litigation. It took me about a minute to run across a description, by two attorneys named Michael D. Freeborn and Todd J. Ohlms, of a recent court case involving bedbugs, a motel chain we all know, and our own 7th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, located here in Chicago. It’s a fine example of management denial.

“In Matthias v. Accor Economy Lodging, Inc., 347 F.3d 672 (7th Cir. 2003), the plaintiffs brought a suit against various entities that own and operate the "Motel 6" chain of hotels and motels (Motel). Mathias, 347 F.3d at 673.

“The plaintiffs were guests at Motel 6 and were bitten by bedbugs. The plaintiffs argued that the Motel's willful and wanton conduct in allowing them to be victims of the bloodthirsty insects entitled them to punitive damages. The jury awarded each plaintiff $5,000 in compensatory damages and $186,000 in punitive damages.

“On appeal, the Motel argued that at worst, it was guilty of simple negligence. The Seventh Circuit quickly rejected that argument noting that:

* in 1998, the Motel's extermination service discovered bedbugs in several rooms and recommended spraying all the rooms for $500, which the Motel refused;

* the next year, bedbugs were found in a room and the Motel had the exterminator spray only that particular room;

* meanwhile, the Motel tried to negotiate a full sweep of the premises by the exterminator for free, which was refused by the exterminator;

* by the year 2000, the Motel's manager noticed that clerks were issuing refunds to guests based on the presence of ticks and bugs in the rooms;

* a management level employee refused to close the Motel and spray the entire premises despite further incidents of guest being bitten by bedbugs;

* the Motel continued to rent rooms that had been designated as being unfit to rent due to their infestation with the bedbugs, including the room rented to the plaintiffs.”


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