A husband and wife visiting a Phoenix Wal-Mart store found more than they were looking for: bed bugs. The problem began when the husband (who had an injury to his toe) sat down in one of the store’s motorized carts that are made available for guests with mobility challenges. As the couple shopped, the husband began to complain of his back itching. When the man stopped by the restroom and got up from the cart, the couple noticed that the seat of the cart where the man was sitting was infested with bed bugs and that the man’s back was covered in bites. The company indicated it took prompt action upon learning of the infestation, including removing the vinyl covers from its motorized carts for cleaning.
Retail Stores’ Liability for Bed Bug Infestations
Although many individuals associate bed bug infestations with mattresses and bedding materials for obvious reasons, bed bugs can be found in other locations and materials as well. It is not just homes, apartments, and hotels that need to worry about bed bug infestations. Bed bugs have been found inside books, behind wallpaper, and even in hospitals and laundromats. While finding bed bugs inside the seat of a motorized cart at a retail establishment may be unsettling, it is certainly not out of the ordinary.
Like other harmful or dangerous conditions, premise liability law requires that retail establishments like Wal-Mart and others who invite customers onto their premises make reasonable efforts to identify and correct bed bug infestations – preferably before the beg bugs cause any injury to others. If bed bugs are discovered, the establishment must take reasonable actions to eradicate the infestation. Failing to do either may cause the establishment to be found civilly liable for injuries and losses that occur to customers.
What are “Reasonable Efforts” for a Retail Store?
A judge or jury will determine whether a particular store’s efforts are “reasonable” if a suit is filed as the result of bed bug injuries. It would be unreasonable for any store – even one with as many resources as Wal-Mart – to inspect every area where bed bugs may be located every day. Reasonable efforts may include:
- Retaining the services of an exterminator who regularly inspects likely areas of infestation and treats accordingly;
- Training employees on bed bug infestations, including the signs to look for and how to respond to signs of an infestation;
- Regularly cleaning and visually inspecting merchandise or areas most likely to be infected by bed bugs (like fabric or vinyl seats, mattresses, and/or bedding);
- Responding promptly to customers’ complaints about suspicious bites or bugs.
It may be impossible for a retail store to detect an infestation before one actually occurs. Just because an infestation occurs does not necessarily mean that the establishment is liable for any injuries. Those establishments that fail to take reasonable actions to prevent and/or solve a bed bug infestation will be the ones that find themselves civilly liable for bed bug injuries and damages.
See Related Blog Posts
Advice from Your Oakland Bed Bug Lawyer on Avoiding Bed Bugs While Traveling
Understanding Bed Bug Infestations and a New (Four-Legged!) Partner in the Fight Against Bed Bugs in California Rental Properties
(image courtesy of Daniel Case)