Unwanted hotel pests lead to legal battle

Hotel guests don't appreciate pests, but some are itching to sue over them. Photo credit: Getty Images/Johnsalzarulo

This is not your father’s bathtub trip-and-fall case. A guest at Sam’s Town Hotel & Casino, in Shreveport, La., was enjoying a shower when she was startled by the presence of ants “everywhere.” The shower wall and bathtub were “covered” with the miscreants. 

The guest panicked and slipped as she “scrambled” to exit the tub. Once out, she noticed ants on the bed and crawling rampant. She called housekeeping and was moved to another room. Her original room was thus vacant but for the vagrant subtenants. The hotel, cognizant of its legal duty, had a contract with Terminix, which likely used a fumigant and a disinfectant to rid the room of the unwanted inhabitants.

The complainant sued for her resultant injuries, claiming the hotel failed to exercise reasonable care to banish the creepy crawlers.

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The defendant hotel was adamant the situation was aberrant. Hotel staff testified that housekeepers were trained to inspect rooms for the presence of insects. If found, workers were directed to submit a “request for treatment.” Terminix would then do its thing. There had been no previous reports of ants in plaintiff’s room.

The contract with the pest consultant was on an “as needed” basis. Incidences of previous ant infestation were scant. The hotel had received a report of ants in the room across from plaintiff’s, but that was 18 months earlier. There had been no reports of ants anywhere in the hotel since. Three days before the plaintiff’s ant encounter, bed bugs were reported in the room above plaintiff’s. A Terminix employee was promptly summoned. His work included an inspection of plaintiff’s room, which yielded no signs of pests.

The court decided in favor of the hotel, noting it was neither nonchalant about its responsibilities nor tolerant of small intruders. The court cited Sam’s Town’s ongoing inspections by the cleaning staff, the hotel’s contract with Terminix, and the absence of reports of ants before those that made camp with plaintiff. Said the court, the litigant guest can’t prove that the hotel was not vigilant. Rather, the evidence established that Sam’s Town exercised reasonable care to banish unwanted critters. Case dismissed.

The lesson of the story is thus: Unpleasant liability can be avoided; adopt and enforce policies for addressing bugs; train housekeeping staff; engage an exterminator and follow advice; and respond quickly if bugs seek to become occupants.

Karen Morris is a lawyer, municipal judge and distinguished professor at Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., where she teaches hospitality law. Contact her at [email protected].