Bite wounds seen on Sue Rogers and Dusty Donaldson, tenants involved in the class action bed bug lawsuit. Photo credit: Des Moines Register
We all know that bed bugs can be an expensive problem to deal with, but we never expected a price tag like this one. A four-year-old class-action bed bug lawsuit by residents of two Iowa apartment buildings are suing the properties for a combined $2.45 million. Payments to the 300 current and former Des Moines, Iowa residents in the suit could range up to $6,000, depending on the damages claimed.
The residents filed the suit in 2010, seeking compensation for back rent, lost property, and other damages resulting from the severe bed bug problems that had been untreated since 2007. The lawsuit claims that the property managers were so slow to react to the infestation that the biting led to permanent scars. At least one tenant even went to the emergency room due to the severe swelling in his leg, likely the result of an allergic reaction.
Resident Jo Ann Meyer said that reputation spread quickly about the complexes. “You go in anywhere – a grocery store, a doctor’s office, anywhere – everybody just backs off when they hear you live at Elsie Mason Manor,” said Meyer. She claims that delivery services sometimes refused to carry furniture into the building for fear of picking up bed bugs.
“I think this puts landlords on notice that they cannot ignore bedbug issues,” said Jeffery Lipman, one of the attorneys handling the case. “If they don’t take care of [the infestation], if they don’t warn consumers, they’re going to be held accountable.” Lipman says that about 200 class members have completed claim forms, and that his firm will seek out others who may be entitled to compensation in the next few weeks. He also expects to file similar suits in Iowa in the near future.
The settlement that is currently pending agreement will be paid mostly by the insurance company covering the former owners of the affected properties. A portion of the settlement will also be paid by the new owners, as well as the insurer of the pest control company that formerly serviced the buildings.
Lipman claims that the buildings’ former owners originally denied any negligent conduct. “We’ve maintained our position that they were negligent,” Lipman said.
David Zwickey, CEO of the new property management, said his organization is satisfied with the terms of the settlement as it currently stands. “This was a very unfortunate incident,” Zwickey admits, stating that his group was focused on its expansion to other facilities in the region. He declined to comment on preventative steps that management could have taken, but said that his group “certainly learned about remediation of bed bugs.”
This lawsuit is the first bed bug related case under Iowa’s 2009 state law called the “Private Right of Action”, which allows consumers to sue businesses that engage in deceptive or unfair practices. Iowa was the last state in the US to enact such a law. The high amount being paid to affected tenants will certainly act as a warning to property managers about the dangers in not addressing bed bug infestations, and hopefully encourage more preventative measures being taken.
If you are a past or current resident of Elsie Mason Manor or Ligutti Tower in Des Moines, Iowa, you can contact Jeff Lipman to check on your status in the class-action lawsuit. The Lipman Law Firm can be reached at 515-276-3411.