Traveling the country attending and speaking at conferences I get the unique opportunity to speak to 100’s of pest control professionals from all over the world. One question I constantly receive is “what can I do to protect myself from bed bug lawsuits” or “I don’t currently offer bed bug services because I’m scared of lawsuits”. While both are great questions/concerns, the concern can easily be managed and addressed with some basic understanding of the reality of bed bug lawsuits. The bottom line is that the threat of a bed bug lawsuit should not scare you away from offering a bed bug service.
The two most important aspects of managing the risk of lawsuits are common sense and documentation. To date I’ve probably served as an expert or consultant on 20 or more different cases that have involved all different walks of life: apartment, retail, hospitality, etc… The common thread with many of the lawsuits and the discussions I’ve had with attorneys is that they are looking for obvious and somewhat ridiculous mistakes that the management or pest control company made. The more negligent or oblivious the mistakes, the easier the case will be to win. Most attorneys aren’t looking for cases that contain debatable decisions as they never know who a judge or jury will favor and to spend the time and money to take a case to trial for a situation they aren’t sure is going to go their way isn’t worth the risk. They may take a case with debatable decisions in an effort to settle it before it goes to trial but these aren’t the cases making “1.5 million dollar headlines”.
The take home on how to avoid lawsuits with “common sense” is to make sure you have research or evidence to support the tools and protocol you are using. Don’t just choose a pesticide or tools because it says bed bugs on the label. Look for trade magazine articles that speak to research on their effectiveness against bed bugs or consult your distribution sales rep and ask what they know. Then make sure you are addressing bed bugs hot spots (beds, couches, areas where evidence was noted) in a responsible fashion (removing bugs and treating them thoroughly with pesticides labeled for that area or non-chemical tools).
Proper documentation is simple. Take a bed bug infestation you treated and provide the documentation from that infestation to someone in your company who isn’t familiar with the situation. Have them read it and then tell you what you found, what you did to treat the infestation and any obstacles you encountered. If they can summarize it accurately (tell you how bad the initial infestation was and approximately what you treated and how well) your documentation is good enough to defend yourself. If not, it needs to be improved.
If you implement a treatment protocol that is backed by simple research, use common sense when applying those products and document your actions properly you should be able to protect yourself from the risk associated with lawsuits.