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Bed Bugs and Hotel Branding Risk Liabilities

Branding, which is important to hotels that franchise to independent operators carries risk as well.  When a hotel guest signs their guest agreement with a hotel, the agreement represents that the guest is doing business with the corporate brand of the franchisor.  This agreement carries with it an expectation that the hotel is providing a room that meets certain standards of cleanliness and is free of infestation.  The franchisor often will attempt to shift the liability in a bed bug case to the franchisee citing their direct ownership.  While the franchisee may have primary liability for the day-to-day maintenance of the hotel, the franchisor has an independent responsibility to ensure their operators comply with certain standards and protocols consistent with the public’s expectation of the brand.  Thus, for higher end brands, there is a greater expectation that the hotel has adopted a ‘state-of-the-art’ standard of care for their operations.

The same can be stated for hotels and certain brands that have a history of bed bug encounters.  The public expects the brand to have procedures in place to aggressively manage and control bed bugs.  Consequently, the corporate franchisor must require their franchisee operator act not only with great speed to remediate bed bugs once discovered, but also employ aggressive inspection protocols and preventative measures.  The public expects that all hotels using the corporate name and logo will operate with the highest standards.

Unfortunately, hoteliers are now being sued alongside their corporate franchisors, adding to the costs and fees associated with litigation.  Both the operating franchisee and the franchisor are obligated to retain separate counsel since their interests, in some respects, differ as do the legal theories alleged against them.  In many cases, the exposure of a large verdict may actually be greater against the franchisor for failing to employ protocols across their brand.  This includes requiring their franchisees to adhere to the standards the public expect from the corporate brand.

The solution for the hotelier is to simply act responsibly. Employing reasonable proactive inspections and readily available preventative measures such as active mattress liners and insecticidal dusts are proven strategic approaches to protect against bed bugs.  While dusts will act to protect the perimeter and the spread of bed bugs, active mattress linters will protect the guest against direct encounters and prevent future infestations from developing.  Daily inspections by housekeeping while the room is being prepared will help identify mere introductions of bed bugs that may otherwise develop into an infestation.  Anything less may subject both the hotel and corporate brand to financial distress.

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Written by: Jeffrey M. Lipman, Attorney-At-Law and Polk County Magistrate Judge.

The Lipman Law Firm practice handles consumer class action litigation, specializing in class action bed bug litigation. Jeff Lipman is a frequent speaker throughout the United States, including the National Pest Management Association and Entomological Society of America.