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Sharks, bedbugs, and other nighttime tales

December 2, 2010
The Washington Post reports on the uptick of bedbug lawsuits in response to the epidemic sweeping America.  In Maryland, Daniel Whitney filed eight lawsuits on behalf of bedbug victims across the state seeking a total of more than $7 million in damages. 
According to the Washington Post, the lawsuits made “Whitney  the object of scorn, with some people suggesting that he’s, well . . . something of a human parasite himself.  “I’m very aware of the derogatory comments people make about me being a bloodsucker seeking large sums of money,” Whitney said. “It’s nonsense. These people need help .”  Whitney is receiving so many phone calls about bed bugs that he is considering taking his phone number off of the web. Should Whitney and other injury lawyers sue or to paraphrase an old expression,  “let the sleeping dogs( bugs) lie ?

I agree with a New York blogger that there is one force that is stronger than the bedbug — the  lawyer. As  Ellie Mystal writes in  the blog, Above the Law, “There is only One Way to Deal With Bedbugs: Release the Sharks.” 

It’s time these critters learned how we do things downtown.And for this problem we’re going to unleash one of our most powerful weapons: an ARMY of landlord-tenant lawyers, who are ridiculously skillful. These guys are not to be messed with. Have you ever tried to evict someone in New York City? I bet it didn’t work out for you. Landlord-tenant lawyers in this city are what trained pit bulls want to be when they grow up.

A law professor chimes in as well to  bring on the lawyers.  Prof. William G. Child  in his  November 28th Law Prof’s Blog writes of  a case where a hotelier knew for years of  the bed bugs, failed to pay for exterminators, and still placed unsuspecting  tourist in the rooms, telling them the bites came from ticks.  That case led to 186,000 dollars in punitive damages.   

Professor Childs recognizes, as do I, that a mere bite does not necessarily make a law suit and certainly not one of that magnitude.   The landlord or owner of the hotel or apartment building must have notice, actual or constructive, of the existence of bed bugs.  There must be actual damages proven through evidence.  For punitive damages, there must be a level of  conscious disregard of risk that goes far beyond neglect. 

But,  as  the  case is made again and again on behalf of unsuspecting guests, bitten by bed bugs,  the verdicts will send a message to landlords and hoteliers alike that is not worth the cost to not treat an infestation.  The war against the bed bugs will ultimately be won— by the lawyers.    As we all suspected, if it is a contest between a shark and a bed bug, is the outcome even in question?

Until then,  let us add to the old refrain “pleasant dreams and do not let the bed bugs bite, ” but “do let the lawyers fight.”

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