Bed bug infestations are on the rise. British Airways has recently had to apologise and upgrade three passengers after a flight from Vancouver to London left them ‘covered’ with bed bug bites. Whilst bed bugs on-board aeroplanes may be rare, it is a common risk faced by the hotel industry in particular.
Bed bugs are small insects that feed on human blood and live in the crevices of beds and other furniture. London has recently seen an increase in bed bug infestations, thought to have been brought to the UK by returning holidaymakers with a 108% increase in pest control call outs between 2015-2016. A similar picture has been seen across the UK in recent years. Causes are thought the be several factors, including the increase in foreign travel, the high turnover of tenants in rented accommodation and most worryingly, the insects have become resistant to pesticides.”
Bed bugs can be brought into hotel rooms swiftly and fairly inconspicuously by guests staying there, and the insects can be transported on clothes and in suitcases, meaning their presence can be commonplace in hotels. As well as risking their reputation and online reviews, bed bug infestations can also result in hotels facing personal injury claims. The bed bug bites themselves are relatively painless but can result in allergic reactions which includes symptoms such as itchy red bumps on the skin which can become infected and severe allergic reactions can be life threatening. Those infected also risk transporting the bed bugs to their own homes.
Personal injury claims for bed bug bites are usually founded on breaches of the Occupiers Liability Act 1957, usually under section 2. This is because hotels have a duty to take such care as is reasonable to make sure that visitors will be reasonably safe in using the premises. With this in mind the preventative procedures and policies in place are crucial to defending such claims.
How to best deal with and avoid bed bug claims
There are some straight forward steps which hotels can take to minimise the risk of bed bug infestations and respond to the claims which may follow.
Firstly, training housekeeping staff is a crucial control measure. Staff should be trained to recognise and look out of for the signs of bed bugs including black spots on mattresses, spots of blood on sheets, and recognising the small oval-shaped bugs themselves. Training records should be retained to provide documentary evidence that training was carried out.
Checklists for housekeeping staff to complete when cleaning rooms could also assist in demonstrating rigorous checks and that the training provided is adhered to.
Prepare and retain policies on cleaning and records, so that you can confirm which rooms are cleaned by whom, as well as records of any potential infestations and how they were dealt with.
When defending claims for bed bug bites, documents such as invoices showing how recently beds and mattresses were last purchased, and cleaned, can help in demonstrating a hotel is well-maintained and takes health and safety seriously.
Other control measures include the use of bed bug proof mattress protectors and having policies in place for washing bed linen at a high temperature and using bed bug monitors which acts as early warning of an infestation.
In the event of a bed bug infestation or if complaint is received, investigating this thoroughly and calling in pest control will also assist in defending claims at a later date. If no bed bugs are found by pest control, the source of the claimant’s symptoms could lie elsewhere.
Responding to bed bug claims
The usual formula for dealing with a claim (i.e. duty, breach, causation and loss) should be followed when considering such claims. If a claimant is able to establish breach of duty, there can still be a number of areas in which medical causation can be challenged. It is important to request sight of a claimant’s medical records in order to ascertain whether there are any other potential causes of the symptoms such as pre-existing skin conditions, other insect bites (e.g. fleas from pets) or allergies.
Except in very severe cases resulting in scarring, it is likely that all symptoms will have resolved by the time of an examination by a medical expert. Photographs of the alleged injuries should be requested from the claimant to allow a medical expert the opportunity to determine whether the manifestation of the bites fits with a potential diagnosis of bed bug bites or whether there is another cause.
There is plenty of scope to defend bed bug claims, provided good policies and procedures are in place and a hotel can show they were being followed, the contemporaneous documents must be retained and the right questions must be asked of claimants.
So the old saying goes, don’t let the bed bugs bite, or if they do, have the evidence to prove all reasonable steps were taken and be prepared to challenge medical causation.