The itchy bites resulted in large, painful welts that led Stacey Belle to seek medical treatment, according to her lawsuit. Belle’s attorney, Daniel W. Whitney, said the verdict, announced Tuesday, represents the largest damages award against a hotel in the state in a bedbug case.
“This is my seventh bedbug trial. We’ve been contacted by thousands of people; sometimes we get ten calls a day,” said Whitney, of Whitney & Bogris LLP in Towson. “Most cases get resolved pretrial with confidential settlements. You don’t hear about how pervasive this problem is, but it’s pervasive and it’s getting worse.”
Belle, of Winston-Salem, N.C., checked into Room 237 of the Red Roof Inn in Oxon Hill on Jan. 23, 2014, and stayed there overnight, according to the complaint. The next morning, she awoke to find her arms and hands covered in swollen welts.
The hotel should have known there was an “active bed bug infestation” in the area around the room because they had received prior complaints of bedbugs at the hotel and had previously treated infestations, according to the lawsuit, filed in Prince George’s County Circuit Court in June 2014.
Bedbug bites, while generally painless, can be a health hazard because some people experience severe allergic reactions, the complaint states.
After a two-day trial before Judge Daneeka Varner Cotton, the jury deliberated for less than an hour before ruling for Belle on Tuesday, Whitney said. A key factor in the outcome of the case was the hotel’s failure to follow its own policy for dealing with pests, he said.
“Since December 2010, they had a formal bedbug policy recognizing the nature of the problem, and that superseded an earlier policy from 2008,” he said.
During discovery, Whitney said he found that the room Belle had stayed in had been labeled “out of order” due to bedbugs several weeks before she stayed there, but the hotel never called in a pest control contractor to eradicate them.
“Once a hotel has one or more rooms infested with bed bugs, those bugs are known to hide within and travel through the walls and ceilings to adjoining units,” the lawsuit states. “Their population can increase exponentially in a short period of time if the issue is overlooked or ignored.”
The bugs can also be transported between rooms by employees performing housekeeping tasks or by guests, so quarantining an infested room until it is professionally treated is essential, Whitney said.
“We had graphic photographs of some very nasty skin lesions up and down her arms,” he said. “If you’ve got a policy, you’ve got to follow it. Bedbugs are a force of nature.”
Telephone and email messages to a Red Roof Inn spokesperson seeking comment on the verdict were not immediately returned Thursday.
The case is Stacey Belle v. FMW RRI I, LLC et al., CAL14-12532.