Bed bug lawyer questions Iowa’s elimination of routine hotel inspections

One Monday morning in June 2018, Adair’s Jeffrey and Suzanne Hoover woke up in their hotel room to find what they later described as hundreds of insect bites on their bodies and faces.

It was not the first time. For weeks, the couple had been staying at the Super 8 on and off due to damage to their home in a tornado. During this time, they reportedly found marks on their bodies that they initially attributed to a poison ivy infection. They sought treatment at a medical clinic and a VA hospital, and even made two trips to the emergency room.

That Monday, however, the situation would have been much worse than before.

West Des Moines attorney Jeff Lipman. (Photo courtesy of Lipman Law Firm)

“When the Hoovers woke up,” their West Des Moines attorney Jeffrey Lipman later said in court papers, “they were both covered in bites and found themselves lying in a bed full of bed bugs. … The bedbug infestation was so rampant and severe that even a cursory inspection would have revealed the infestation.

Eventually, the Hoovers sued the hotel for damages related to their medical bills and the clothes and luggage they had to throw away. After two years of litigation, the owner of the Super 8 offered to settle the case for $40,000. The case was closed shortly thereafter.

Recently, the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals admitted that for the past eight years it had failed to comply with a state law that requires the agency to perform routine inspections of every hotel. of Iowa at least once every two years.

In 2014, according to the ministry, it conducted an internal “risk assessment” and decided to stop carrying out routine inspections at hotels. Since then, the state agency has inspected Iowa’s 700 hotels and motels only when complaints are filed or ownership changes.

Some of the 13 cities and counties the state contracts with to perform various types of inspections have opted to continue routine hotel inspections, but the DIA, which oversees most Iowa hotels, does not. did not. To get back into compliance with the law, DIA plans to change the regulations to eliminate the legal requirement for routine inspections.

Lipman, an expert on bedbug cases, says consumers aren’t well served by the DIA’s rulings.

He says he understands that state inspectors don’t have the time or resources to conduct thorough room-by-room inspections for bedbugs at all hotels while enforcing other unrelated regulations. parasites. But eliminating routine inspections isn’t the solution, he says.

Lipman says hotel inspectors should take a similar approach to that used by healthcare facility inspectors where regulators conduct annual checks to ensure all necessary policies and protocols are in place and are being followed. followed.

“Do hotels call pest control companies immediately after a problem is reported?” Lipman asks. “Are they locking the rooms?” Do they perform treatments delivered by pest control companies or do they self-treat, using their own staff? »

Jessica Dunker of the Iowa Hotel and Lodging Association. (Photo courtesy of the organization.)

Jessica Dunker of the Iowa Hotel and Lodging Association said she was “not aware of any specific health issues related to the hospitality industry” in Iowa. And when asked about bedbugs, she told the Iowa Capital Dispatch, “Bedbugs, yes, it’s a terrible inconvenience and you’re very upset,” but, a- she added, it’s more a problem of cleanliness than a health problem.

“It’s ignorance,” Lipman said of Dunker’s assessment. “Bed bugs do not spread disease, but they are considered a public health problem. They basically suck people’s blood and cause these massive marks, and sometimes people get skin irritations and scars. I mean, these things come out, sometimes, 50 to 100 bugs at a time – and they start feeding on people, leaving these grotesque marks all over their bodies.

“And they have nothing to do with cleanliness. The Waldorf Astoria had bedbugs… Bedbugs are attracted to the C02 in your breath and they are drawn to the blood. They don’t want waste. They want blood. Human blood. That’s what they’re here for, and nothing else.

He says the cases he handles are serious enough that hotel housekeeping staff had to discover infestations through regular inspections. If that had happened, and if management had then taken those rooms and the nearest ones out of service, injuries to his guests could have been avoided, he says.

Ottumwa hotel sued for bed bugs

Part of the problem with complaint-driven inspections, Lipman says, is that by the time a complaint is filed with the state, the damage has already been done. And while hotel staff have already taken action to eradicate the bugs in the complaining guest’s room, by the time the inspectors show up, the bugs may have taken up residence in other rooms that don’t have been inspected.

“We’ll have hotels saying, ‘Oh, we don’t have bedbugs,’ but then we’ll have guests who have pictures of bedbugs and pictures showing they’ve been bitten 50 times. And then DIA says, ‘We haven’t seen any bed bugs.’ »

Lipman says that in Iowa, it’s a simple offense for hotels to self-treat bed bugs with chemicals, but some hoteliers will sometimes cut corners and try to avoid bed bugs. hire a licensed exterminator.

He says there is now green technology that uses non-toxic chemicals to deter bed bugs, but hotels with a history of infestations need to take a proactive approach and work on prevention as well as eradication. Not enough hotels take that step, Lipman says.

After the Lexington Inn & Suites in Ottumwa was sued for an alleged bed bug infestation, the owner, Belvant Patel, testified in depositions that he had no training in how to spot bed bugs, no training in eradication, and that he handled the treatment himself rather than using the company’s contract exterminator.

He also testified that he kept no records documenting rooms with a history of infestations and no records regarding bedbug complaints.

One of the Lexington Inn’s guests, Dustin Delehoy, sued the hotel in September 2019. Delehoy alleged he stayed at the hotel for four days in April 2019 after traveling to Ottumwa from Illinois to attend at some of his son’s baseball games.

After his first night in room 218 of the Lexington Suites, Delehoy reportedly woke up and noticed three bite marks on his hand. After his second night in the room, he reportedly woke up and found more bite wounds to an arm and neck.

He showed the bites to the hotel staff and asked for another room. He was then reassigned to a room across the hall, but reportedly woke up the next day with more bites on most of his body – including his back, neck, arms, stomach and a foot. A manager said she would speak to the owner about a refund, which Delehoy said was never received.

A few days later, Delehoy, later claimed, he visited a dermatologist to evaluate the bites and was prescribed a topical cream, prednisone and Benadryl.

Delehoy’s lawsuit against the hotel was settled out of court in July.

About bedbugs

Bedbugs have a lifespan of three months to a year, but can multiply rapidly since a female bug can lay 300 to 500 eggs in her lifetime. The insects ingest blood as needed, consuming up to 8 milligrams during a single bite that can last up to 12 minutes.

When biting, insects deploy piercing stylets in their mouths. The first stylet carries the insect’s saliva into the bite wound to prevent blood from clotting. The second stylet carries blood from the human host into the insect.

Insects do not carry disease, and in most cases the effects of bedbug bites are limited to skin irritation, itching that can last for several days, and small fluid-filled skin formations.

In many cases, the main damage they inflict is financial. Since insects can be transported from hotels and other places to a person’s home, the victim may suffer losses related to extermination services, medical care and loss of clothing, bedding or infested furniture.

Inspect hotel rooms for bed bugs

The Environmental Protection Agency and consumer reports has these tips for hotel guests hoping to avoid bed bug problems:

Luggage: When you first enter a hotel room, place your luggage on a raised rack or in the bathroom, which is an unlikely place for bedbugs to hide, while you inspect the room. bedroom. You may want to bring large plastic bin bags to store your luggage in during your stay.

Bedding: Pull sheets and blankets and check the seams of the mattress and box spring for insects, especially at the head of the bed. Adults, nymphs and eggs are tiny, but visible to the naked eye. Look for exoskeletons or “skins” and dark rust-colored spots on the bedding. Bedbugs, although tiny, can be seen with the naked eye. Insects can also be smelled, with an odor sometimes described as a sweet, foul-smelling raspberry odor.

Furniture: Check upholstered furniture within 20 feet of the bed, especially along fabric seams.

Walls: Since the bugs are usually no larger than the width of a credit card, they can congregate along cracks and seams in the headboard, baseboards and wall outlets within 20 feet. of a bed.

To relocate : If you find signs of bed bugs, ask to be moved to a new room, preferably to another area of ​​the building. When you get home, dry your travel clothes in a hot dryer for up to 30 minutes.

Complaints: If you want to file a complaint about a hotel with the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, go to: DIA contact form. From there, you can write a complaint outlining the problem and upload any photos you took to back up your complaint.

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