The old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity has no credit with hoteliers. They know that even a whispered rumor can have a disastrous effect on business. Websites detailing the horror reports of being eaten alive by bedbugs for a night in a hotel or motel play on the growing public hysteria about these blood-sucking parasites. Fueled by a barrage of media attention, an accusation can instantly damage a hotel’s hard-earned reputation and scare guests.
According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), bed bug infestations have been reported in all 50 states. Almost unprecedented since the near eradication of DDT-based insecticides in the 1950s, bed bugs have returned and in increasing numbers. Reports of bed bugs increased by 71% between 2000 and 2005, according to NPMA. Most pest control companies now make dozens of calls a week every week. “The last 12 months have been particularly active,” said Cindy Mannes, NPMA’s director of public affairs. “They’re showing up like never before in hotels, hospitals, college dorms, and multi-family housing units as well as single-family homes.
“Most hotel chains don’t keep track because the numbers are so insignificant,” said Joe McInerney of the American Hotel and Lodging Association at the 2006 International Bedbug Symposium, when asked about the growing number of bedbug complaints in the hospitality industry.
He noted that there are more than 4.4 million hotel rooms in the U.S., adding that “you could count the number of cases per day with one or two hands. However, according to a 2004 survey of pest control professionals by Pest Control Technology magazine, hotels and motels were the most common locations for bed bug infestations, accounting for more than one-third of bed bug complaints.
In a recent survey, one company reported that 24% of its 700 hotel guests required Bed Bug treatments between 2002 and 2006. Brooke Ferencsik, a spokesperson for the popular hotel review site TripAdvisor.com told USA Today, “We receive a steady stream of bed bug reports and have hundreds of reviews” mentioning them. “Even if travelers aren’t experiencing [bedbugs], they’re becoming more aware and taking care of them.
The bed bug resurgence has created a particularly disturbing problem for the hospitality industry. Rooms that were pest-free one night can be infected by a host the next. Legal experts have noted a boom in bed bug litigation with guests suing hotels for millions of dollars. “Not only can a hotel get a terrible reputation for allowing creepy, creepy bedfellows to exist, but it can also lose a lot of money,” wrote a blogger.
Some lawyers are looking for bedbug clients. An ad on InjuryBoard.com says, “If you have been a victim of a bed bug infestation, it may be important to contact an attorney to help protect your legal rights.
The financial impact of a bed bug infestation lawsuit can be substantial. In the landmark 2003 case (Matthias v. Accor Economy Lodging); the Toronto brothers who stayed in a bedbug-infested motel room received a $382,000 jury award in their lawsuit against Motel 6. In 2006, a Chicago couple sued a Catskills resort for $20 million, claiming they were physically and mentally scarred after suffering 500 bedbug bites. “I was horrified to see all those bites all over my body,” said plaintiff Leslie Fox.
“I was miserable. I felt like my skin was on fire and I wanted to rip it off. In 2007, New York opera star Allison Trainer sued the Hilton hotel chain for $6 million claiming she had suffered more than 100 bedbug bites at a Phoenix Hilton Suites. Her story was widely reported in the press: “They were all over the bed, the duvet and the pillows, and I pulled out the sheets and they were everywhere. His lawyer documented 150 bites and 23 scars. Last month a New York Supreme Court judge ruled that two Maryland tourists bitten by bedbugs during a stay at Milford Plaza in 2003 could proceed with their $2 million negligence claim, although they were denied punitive damages.
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