Can You Sue a Hotel for Bed Bugs?

Updated: May 2

Hotel Guests are Asking: "Can You Sue a Hotel for Bed Bugs?"

Disclaimer: We are not lawyers, and don’t have the ability to provide legal advice for bed bug cases. However, we may refer to legal information within this blog.


Bed bugs can be extremely detrimental to the hotel industry, for a number of reasons. These small creatures infest hotels and other hospitality establishments. They live in clothing, bedding, mattresses, bed frames, and sofas, amongst other furniture in the home.

Needless to say, the increased footfall in hotels dramatically increases the risk of a bed bug infestation. But for the hotel sector, bed bugs raise the specter of an even greater problem: lawsuits, legal fees, and reputational damage.

Typically, bed bugs will not cause guests any significant harm. However, there are cases in which these insects become more than just an annoyance. Some people may experience severe allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis. When this is the case, urgent medical attention is required.

However, guests can sue for substantial sums even without serious injuries like this. For hotels, bed bugs can be a costly problem, with six-figure settlements not uncommon and high legal fees.

Legal Implications of Bed Bug Infestations

According to lawyers, the long-term effects of a run-in with bed bugs can range from anxiety, nightmares, paranoia, and obsessive behavior, and symptoms consistent with PTSD. Clearly, the repercussions of a bed bug infestation on guests, and the business, cannot be understated.

Due to the frequent turnover of guests arriving from many different locations, hotels are a hotspot for these insects to be introduced. For establishments that fail to take precautions, there can be serious financial consequences.

The most infamous example of the chaos bed bugs can cause, is the case of the Park La Brea apartment complex. In 2013, this legal battle saw the apartment complex pay out a settlement of $3.5 million, between 16 tenants.

The prosecuting attorney found that they didn’t report the problem to any of the guests at the appropriate opportunity. He pointed out that there had been multiple complaints about the issue since 2011.

It was ruled that Park La Brea Apartments were aware of the infestation since 2008.

Featured on multiple news outlets, such as The Los Angeles Times, this act of gross negligence saw the apartment complex pay out the biggest bed bug settlement in history. This is just one example of the dramatic consequences experienced by a bed bug infestation.

On Oct 2, 2013, a hotel was ordered to pay $546,000 to a single family. In this case, the victim of a bed bug infestation of the Hilton Garden Inn, argued they were left with insomnia and a fear of hotels after the incident.

The case argued that the operations manager had admitted the pest policy of the hotel had not been changed, three years after the incident occurred. The establishment lost the case based on a lack of regard for emotional distress experienced by the guests. The hotel management also knew about the infestation prior to the victims’ stay. Again, this illustrates that feigning ignorance or not undertaking the right processes to monitor for bed bugs, might not get a hotel out of trouble.

These are just a few of the examples of families and guests that have taken on lawsuits against establishments, with large payouts.

Florida in particular is the subject of many lawsuits regarding bed bugs. As one of the most travelled to states, especially in the summer, bed bugs are rife in hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs.

Other lawsuits against establishments have a high success rate, with an average payout of $10,000 - $80,000 but these numbers don’t include the hotel’s own legal fees or the damage to reputation of the hotel management team and brand. Not to mention the loss of bookings while addressing a bed bug problem.

So, in short, the answer is yes, guests can sue a hotel for bed bugs, and they can win.


The Legal Process?

There are four main drivers for a successful lawsuit against your hotel. Firstly, photo evidence is key. Without this, the case is unlikely to continue any further.

Sometimes it can take up to 14 days for a bed bug bite to become visible and/or cause a reaction, so victims will often need time-stamped photo evidence, with proof of the dates of the stay at the hotel.

Ideally, your guest should have lodged a complaint with the hotel first. However, inaction following this complaint may hinder your defense. Guests that have an incident report, or written proof of a complaint, have strong evidence of your awareness of the infestation. Admittedly, not all hotels allow guests to keep a copy of correspondence like this. However, this course of action can be detrimental to customer service relations.

Ultimately, the reported victim will likely need to demonstrate that your establishment knew about the bed bug problem or didn’t take sufficient action to make sure a problem didn’t occur. They might also need to prove that insufficient actions were taken to rectify the problem and remove the pests. If they can prove this, they might push for gross negligence and gain a larger payout.

The last aspect to consider when coming up against a bed bug lawsuit is lawyer's fees. There are many lawyers in the United States who have won multiple bed bug cases.


Prevent Legal Action

Ultimately, the best way to prevent legal action against your establishment is to be proactive about bed bugs. Ensure that there is minimal risk to guests by identifying and preventing bed bugs before guests are affected and before infestations take root.

If bed bugs are removed as soon as they are introduced, and you have a documented clear rigorous process for identification and mitigation, then you can say that you’ve taken measures to protect your guests . Take the time to implement effective bed bug prevention methods within your hotels. The latest innovations in the industry include machine learning technology and smart or connected devices to spot bed bugs before the problem spreads.

At Spotta, we understand the risk that bed bugs pose to the hotel industry. Our smart bed bug detection service is designed to prevent such an issue before it has started. Our technology attracts and detects bed bugs at the earliest possible stage of infestation, and sends an alert to the management of the establishment, enabling them to take the next steps quickly and discreetly. Get in touch with us today to discuss effective bed bug prevention for your hotel.