Litigation Causes Insurer Concerns
Jeffrey White, a research entomologist with Bed Bug Central in New Jersey, says the bed bug problem is worldwide, though he has seen a dramatic increase in the Northeast. “We use New York City as the barometer for what’s going to happen across this entire country over the next five to ten years.”
A simple review of the online resource, bedbugregistry.com, which shows real time reports of bed bug infestations, confirms the higher incidence of bed bugs in the upper Northeast.
White says he’s seen a rise in calls for expert advice and retention. The number of calls has increased dramatically in the past six months. “We are averaging at least one call a week.”
White notes the calls are evenly split between defense and plaintiff attorneys. The defendants involved are mainly hotels, group homes, apartments, and property management companies.
In White’s experience most lawsuits involving bed bugs settle prior to trial and he is only asked to review the case files and provide an opinion. He emphasizes taking proactive measures to identify and prevent bed bugs early on. Then, he recommends an aggressive action plan to treat the problem.
“Where people are finding themselves in a lot of hot water is when they stick their head in the sand about bed bugs. They don’t have any type of action plan created. They show up and don’t know how to react to the problem. Weeks go by and no action is taken, or they call the cheapest exterminator they can find and they come in and don’t do anything even close to a good treatment for bed bugs.”
Documentation is just as important, White points out.
“That is where a lot of cases have had to settle. People claim they did everything they could have done, but the paperwork does not reflect their claims.”
Pest management records and documentation is equally important. White hasn’t seen many pest control companies named in lawsuits; however, they can get pulled in at any moment.
While most of the lawsuits White has seen involve bodily injury and property claims for medical bills, scarring and furniture replacement, he has noticed a number of plaintiffs also claiming emotional distress.
“We’ve seen a lot of people that are claiming psychological trauma.”
Emotional distress claims range from not being able to sleep at night to having problems at work as a result of the lack of sleep.
During a breakout session of the Orkin-sponsored virtual bed bug summit held in April, Michael Weisburger, president of the PlanetPCO Insurance Group, emphasized that media attention is playing a major role on how bed bug claims are perceived.
“In the event of a highly publicized claim situation, the public will dictate whether or not the damages are “real”. What’s overstated and sensationalized is real! Insurance companies have to contend with all of this hysteria. Insurance companies are having a difficult time getting their arms around how to measure what losses exist and what potential losses exist in claims involving bed bugs.”
While typical property policies don’t cover damage or treatment of bedbugs, general liability policies do come into play. When investigating a bed bug claim and the potential for subrogation, adjusters should check to see if the insured is a named additional insured on the pest management company’s policy.
The NPMA’s Web site has a section devoted entirely to bed bugs. The NPMA recommends visual inspection as the preferred method of determining whether a bed bug infestation exists. The size and color of an apple seed, bed bugs like to travel hiding in suitcases, boxes, and shoes.
“Bed bugs can be very hard to detect until their levels of infestation get to be large,” says Henriksen.
A bed bug hatches from an egg and has five nymphal stages where it will shed an exoskeleton. Each time the new shell will harden and in the final stage it will become a male or female. The bed bug enjoys a blood meal at each stage and will feed multiple times as an adult. The lifespan of a bedbug is typically three months, though they can live up to a year if food is limited. The female will go through multiple reproductions, laying approximately five eggs at a time and between 20 and 100 in her lifetime.
Henriksen recommends watching out for itchy bumps or welts. Bed bugs tend to bite in a pattern or line. When changing sheets it’s a good idea to inspect the bed, mattress, headboard, box spring, and dust ruffle. Pepper-like flakes can be a sign of bed bug excrement or blood debris.
This is part 2 of a three part article. Part 3 will be posted on Friday, June 17.
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