Bedbug infestation prompts $500,000 suit against complex

Couple, 3-year-old covered in bites, forced to throw out belongings, according to lawsuit filed in Howard

September 27, 2010|By Julie Scharper, The Baltimore Sun

A Howard County couple are suing the owners of their apartment complex for half a million dollars, claiming bedbugs infiltrated their apartment, covering them and their toddler daughter with dozens of itchy welts and causing "significant emotional distress."

Orville Brown Jr. and Rebecca Brown were forced to move out of their Ellicott City apartment and discard most of their furniture and all their daughter's toys because of the severity of the infestation, according to a suit filed Friday in Howard County Circuit Court.

"It's a horror story," said Daniel W. Whitney, an attorney representing the Browns. "It's very upsetting to have a baby being bitten by bedbugs. Their entire world was turned upside down."

A representative of Hirschfeld Management Inc., which operates the Howard Crossing complex where the family lived until earlier this month, declined to comment on the suit.

Bedbugs — blood-sucking insects that can sidle through tiny cracks and hitch rides on the soles of shoes — have flourished in recent years, in part because the pesticides that once nearly eradicated them have been outlawed. Treating an infestation is complex, time-consuming and often quite costly.

According to the suit, the apartment's management office informed the Browns of a bedbug infestation in an adjacent apartment in May and told them that their apartment would be treated as a precaution. The couple believes that their apartment was never treated but received a cursory inspection.

In August, Rebecca Brown discovered two dozen red, inflamed bumps on her arms, legs and neck. Her husband found the sloughed-off skins of bedbugs in their bedroom and bedbug feces — which resemble minute splatters of blood — on their mattress. After laundering the bedclothes, the couple found more than a dozen bedbugs in the washing machine, according to the suit.

The couple reported the bugs to the management company, which sent exterminators to inspect but not treat the apartment three times last month, according to the suit.

The Browns applied bug repellent at night and slept on the sofa. Orville Brown spent two hours seeking the bugs each evening, taking apart furniture and picking through his daughter's toys. The family stored their clothes in the trunk of their car,to avoid contamination, according to the suit.

But the bugs continued to bite. Itchy welts appeared on the couple's 3-year-old daughter, causing skin discolorations that remain, according to the suit. Rebecca Brown was troubled by insomnia and the sense that bugs were crawling over her and is undergoing therapy to deal with the trauma of the infestation, according to the suit.

Early this month, the family threw out nearly all of their belongings and moved into Rebecca Brown's parents' home. They are seeking $500,000 in damages for physical and emotional harm and for negligence by the management company, contending that the managers were dilatory and inexact in treating the infestation.

Whitney, of the Towson-based firm Whitney & Bogris LLP, also represents a woman who filed suit this month against a Cockeysville apartment complex over a bedbug infestation. It is believed to be the first bedbug-related lawsuit in the state.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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Avoiding bedbugs

•Inspect hotel mattresses for bugs and blood spatters

•Wash clothes and check luggage after returning home from trips

•Don't take furniture or appliances from street corners or alleys

•Use caution when buying used furniture

If bedbugs are in your home

•Vacuum mattresses, carpets, floors and crevices; encase vacuum bag in plastic and quickly dispose of it in an outside garbage can

•Seal mattresses and box springs in impermeable plastic or vinyl cases

•Wash and dry all clothing and linens in high heat, or have them dry-cleaned

•Eliminate clutter and dispose of items that cannot be cleaned

•Seal cracks and remove loose wallpaper

•Choose pest removal companies that have extensive experience with bedbugs

•Avoid using pesticide foggers or bombs

•Destroy or post warnings on discarded furniture or other items

Source: Baltimore City Health Department, New York City Health Department

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