Bed Bugs Lawsuit - A Procedural Note

Discussion in 'The DIS Unplugged Podcast' started by DDuck1974, May 8, 2019.

  1. DDuck1974

    DDuck1974 Earning My Ears

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    I just listened to the podcast of yesterday's (5/7/19) show and wanted to pass on a legal point for you regarding the bed bugs lawsuit.

    There was some focus on the fact that the lawsuit sought $75,000 and that fact, at least in part, impacted some of the thoughts about the lawsuit. I wanted to let you know that the amount sought is likely completely irrelevant to the amount of damages the plaintiffs are actually seeking.

    The lawsuit was filed in federal court. In order for this lawsuit to be in federal court, one of the requirements is that the "amount in controversy" must be at least $75,000. Thus plaintiffs just plead that amount to bypass this procedural hurdle. They can actually claim any amount of damages they want when the case goes to trial (over $75k), and plaintiffs often do not want to specify an amount of damages in the complaint for strategic reasons.

    Related, for lawsuits filed in the circuit court of Florida, the amount in controversy must be at least $15,000. So if you see a lawsuit filed in state court and they assert that amount of money, it merely means they are pleading the procedural minimum required.

    Today's boring point of law concluded, I return you to much more fun discussions about WDW.
     
  2. Pawpsicle

    Pawpsicle Mouseketeer

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    Thanks, learned something new today!
     
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  4. SorcererHeidi

    SorcererHeidi Sorcerer please cast forever love spell for me

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    Not boring at all, @DDuck1974! Like when @jcb interprets or explains something legal here, or on the podcast, I sincerely appreciate it. Like I've always said, people like you guys explain things in a way I can understand, and I don['t feel stupid or demeaned at all for needing that explanation. So - thank you!

    I don't talk legal so goodly. ;)

    And I will also say I was very interested in this particular piece of news. Bedbugs have been rampant here in the NYC metro area for years, so I have checked anywhere I have stayed (as was mentioned on the show - bedbugs can be anywhere, even out at sea on a cruise ship, at a movie theater, a clothing store, a library (all places they have been verified to have been found I have read in articles, or seen on the news) they have even been found in hospitals and healthcare facilities - so cleanliness has NOTHING to do with it) and even have bought an easy-to-check encasement for my mattress and boxspring at home, since I have mostly lived in multi-unit apartment buildings, which is another place they have been found/spread from unit to unit. I know several people who have been affected, and read numerous articles of (quite unexpected) places they've been found. The successful treatment and eradication can be quite expensive, and gets even moreso if the victims delay, or try to self-treat. There have even been fires and other catastrophic events caused by people reading "treatments" on the internet, and using gasoline, or alcohol, etc. So - very interesting to me.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2019
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  5. TaytonsTourGuide

    TaytonsTourGuide Earning My Ears

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    Definitely not boring! I'm a baby lawyer (just passed the bar in October) and love being able to pick out legal issues discussed on the podcast. I'm interested to see how much they go on to seek during their case...as I do think they will eventually seek (much) more than 75k.
     
  6. SorcererHeidi

    SorcererHeidi Sorcerer please cast forever love spell for me

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    @TaytonsTourGuide - Wow - congrats on passing the bar!! :dogdance:
     
  7. DDuck1974

    DDuck1974 Earning My Ears

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    Glad I could be helpful!
     
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  8. MrKnight

    MrKnight Former WDWCM & Proud DIS Member

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    Let me start by saying that first and foremost I absolutely LOVE the DIS Podcasts, I am long-time loyal listener, and I genuinely respect each and every member of the podcast panel and their viewpoints/opinions. With that said, I cannot help but to share my professional opinion on this topic;

    IMHO, I also listened to this whole podcast and as a hotel management professional who has worked for many hotels and resorts throughout my career (including WDW resorts at one point), I was somewhat irritated with the lack of knowledge and understanding that the DIS team exemplified regarding both hotel topics (Bed bug topic and lost and found topic but we can just stick to the bed bug topic for now);

    Bed bugs can occur anywhere and in any hotel, even the most luxurious world-class hotels have at one point or another had bed bug situations and believe it or not even infestations, that is because bed bugs come from GUESTS who transport them IN to their hotel room via suitcases, bags, etc.. There is simply no realistic nor feasible way for a hotel operator to GUARANTEE that a room is free of bed bugs unless every single room is physically dismantled and professionally inspected (headboards removed, mattresses lifted, furniture moved, inspection conducted by a certified pest professional, etc.) after every single guest checks out, as you can imagine that is simply NOT possible especially in a real world fast-paced hotel operation (such as a WDW resort) in which literally HUNDREDS of guests are arriving and departing daily, let alone the immense pressure being placed on hotel staff (especially Housekeepers) to turnover rooms as quickly as possible. For someone to go to the extent of filing a FEDERAL LAWSUIT for such a commonplace unfortunate incident that could occur in any hotel seems rather unreasonable and leads one to think as to what the person's true intentions really are. What shocked me the most was when Pete seemed to CONDONE the lawsuit and at one point even stated "$75k sounds reasonable", I literally nearly fell out of my seat when I heard this! :eek::eek::eek:

    What is perhaps even most concerning about this story is that in the event that a federal judge actually entertains this lawsuit, this could set a very dangerous and extremely unreasonable precedent.

    Once again I hope this is not taken the wrong way by my fellow DISers, I am simply expressing an opinion as I happen to work in the hotel industry and couldn't help but to share my professional viewpoint. I would love to hear other feedback or additional viewpoints on this topic.
     
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  9. rteetz

    rteetz Rumors and News Moderator Moderator

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    Well compared to some lawsuits people try against Disney, yeah $75K is reasonable.
     
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  10. fla4fun

    fla4fun DIS Veteran

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    I agree with your points. What bothers me is that people tend to think that hotels are the only place you can get bedbugs. Just in the travel industry, you could pick them up on a plane when your luggage is next to infested luggage, and then you could be the one who brings them to the hotel, when you have never had bedbugs before. I don’t even like to leave my luggage with bell services, just because of the potential for bedbugs. But you could get them in any public place, and I think hotels get an unfair reputation for them.

    I am sorry when anyone has to deal with them, but I don’t know of any hotels that wouldn’t immediately take action if bedbugs are around. The lawsuit just seems a little over the top.
     
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  11. EastYorkDisneyFan

    EastYorkDisneyFan DIS Veteran

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    exactly a hotel will either take that room or even other rooms near by it or an entire floor out of service to deal with it soon as they can. It may be something that a guest alerts them to or even something that a cleaner notices
     
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  12. Alicenwonderment

    Alicenwonderment DIS Veteran

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    I wonder if bringing animals into the hotels could cause more bug issues because they can be brought in by dogs.
     
  13. Pucks104

    Pucks104 Earning My Ears

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    BED BUGS FOR DOG LAST UPDATED: APR 1, 2014
    Synopsis
    CAPC Recommends

    • Work with a licensed exterminator to eliminate bed bug infestations in the home.

    • Recognize that pets are not involved in bed bug infestations and do not serve as a source of bed bugs in the home.

    • Understand that flea control products commonly used to protect pets from fleas are not labeled for bed bugs, and because bed bugs feed primarily on people, treating pets would not be expected to be an effective form of control.
      From capcvet.org
     
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  14. MrKnight

    MrKnight Former WDWCM & Proud DIS Member

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    That's a very valid point! I totally agree that hotels get an unfair reputation regarding this and you are right that bedbugs can be found virtually ANYWHERE, even inside plane cabins! If the federal judge that hears this case is even a hair reasonable then I can only imagine that with this fact alone the case will most likely be thrown out as there is simply no way to prove where the bedbugs came from let alone that they could have come from the very person that filed the lawsuit!
     
  15. DDuck1974

    DDuck1974 Earning My Ears

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    I just wanted to comment on the point that it is a federal lawsuit. Basically, it is ultimately a choice of venue, not a statement on the importance of the lawsuit. Since the plaintiff lives in Louisiana and Disney is in Florida, the plaintiff has the option to either file a lawsuit in federal court or state court. Often times an out-of-state plaintiff chooses the federal court over the state court because of the fear that the in-state defendant will be given a "home field advantage" in state court against the out-of-state plaintiff, especially in a situation where the defendant is such a major economic force in the area where the lawsuit is filed. There are a number of factors that go into the decision of which court to select for the lawsuit (way too boring and involved for this post), but the fact that it is federal does not necessarily increase the importance of the lawsuit, especially since the ultimate issues will be decided by Florida state law, not federal law.

    Hope that helps add a little clarity.

    As for the merit of the lawsuit itself, I would need to see a lot more facts surrounding the issues alleged by the plaintiffs to see if Disney actually did something wrong because the presence of bedbugs alone is unlikely to result in liability.
     
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  16. Princess Jes

    Princess Jes DIS Veteran

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    I'm curious to hear if @jcb has anything to add to this discussion?
     
  17. jcb

    jcb always emerging from hibernation

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    For those who wondered about me, thanks. I've been on vacation (and not, shockingly, in a Disney Theme Park, but, not surprisingly, I went in stores which sold boat loads of Disney merchandise at very good prices. But I digress).

    I finally had a chance to look at the complaint and court file. The OP made the point that the $75,000 amount was a jurisdictional issue. I agree. The complaint (attached) merely alleges "the amount in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000.00." Showing (or alleging) that the controversy exceeds $75,000 is an absolute prerequisite if you want to file a lawsuit in federal court based upon what is commonly called the diversity jurisdiction statute. 28 U.S.C. 1332. (Claims based on federal law can be filed in federal court without regard to the amount in controversy). Congress sets the amount. When I first started law school, Congress set the threshold amount at $10,000, then in 1988, it upped the amount to $50,000 and in 1996, it became $75,000. The word "exceeds" is important. I know of at least one decision which dismissed a lawsuit because the amount in controversy was exactly $75,000. But I again digress.

    Complaints must include some kind of demand for relief. This complaint demands Disney compensate plaintiffs for "damages to their persons, pain and suffering, emotional distress, property damages and losses, lost wages and lost income, court costs, interest, attorneys’ fees, and punitive damages, and for all general and equitable relief." In other words, legally, plaintiffs seek much more than $75k but, as a prior poster said, they aren't required to name a specific amount in the complaint.

    Pete or John mentioned the complaint alleged that Disney admitted there were bed bugs. That's true. But let's delve deeper into the facts. The complaint alleges that during their stay at All-Star Music, the family members (the "LaCombes") "experienced significant skin irritation, redness, itching, and/or swelling, which resulted in trouble sleeping, pain, and distress. At that time, the LaCombes were unaware of the origin of these issues." (My emphasis.) They then "departed" the hotel, returned "to their residence" and "learned that the numerous skin irritations, redness, itching, and/or swelling were the result of exposure to and bites by numerous bedbugs in the Disney Hotel." The complaint then asserts: "The Lacombes immediately notified the Defendants, and Defendants confirmed the existence of bedbugs in the hotel room the LaCombes stayed in at the Disney Hotel." The latter sentence is the extent of the assertion that Disney admitted there were bed bugs.

    The complaint does not say the Disney entity they "notified" or the name of any individual who "confirmed" the bedbugs were in the hotel room. You would think that if the LaCombes had this information it would have been included in the complaint. That creates a huge evidentiary issue. You can't just call up guest services and then testify that some unnamed person on the other end of the phone "confirmed" the truth of your allegations. Even if you get the name of the person who "confirmed" the bedbugs were there when you stayed, most decisions in bedbug lawsuits (like other tort claims) require some evidence that someone in authority (e.g., a manager) knew about the infestation before the plaintiffs have checked in.

    This allegation is kind of a red-herring, however, as most bedbug decisions look to whether the hotel knew about the bedbugs before the plaintiffs checked in (this is a gross over-generalization) so evidence that Disney admitted, after the fact, that there were bedbugs in the hotel room might not be all that relevant. I found no Florida appeal decision addressing what a guest must prove to hold a hotel owner are liable bedbugs, or even for other insect infestations or even for snakes in hotel rooms. (Infestations clearly happen. I recall a DIS thread from 2008 which posted photos of a snake nest in the curtain on the second floor of the Contemporary's garden wing. Thread: https://www.disboards.com/threads/f...resort-room-updated-10-23-snake-nest.1986307/ Photos here: http://jennkey.blogspot.com/2008/10/wow-what-trip.html)

    My favorite bedbug case concerned a Motel 6 in Chicago in which there was ample evidence the motel knew its rooms were infested before the plaintiffs rented a room (for $100 a night). The court explained: "The infestation continued and began to reach farcical proportions, as when a guest, after complaining of having been bitten repeatedly by insects while asleep in his room in the hotel, was moved to another room only to discover insects there; and within 18 minutes of being moved to a third room he discovered insects in that room as well and had to be moved still again. (Odd that at that point he didn't flee the motel.)" Mathias v. Accor Econ. Lodging, Inc., 347 F.3d 672, 675 (7th Cir. 2003). Yet, it isn't clear to me what rules will govern in Florida. For example, in slip and fall cases caused by "transitory" objects on a floor, Florida now requires "actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition." Fla. Stat. Ann. § 768.0755. I couldn't say whether this applies to hotel room infestations and there are policy reasons going both ways as to why it might or might not apply.

    What also interested me is that this lawsuit is almost a year old so I'm not sure why it is getting publicity now. The LaCombes filed their complaint in Louisiana federal court, where they live. They sued Disney Parks, Disney Company, and Disney's travel company. Disney always moves to dismiss or transfer lawsuits filed in states other than Florida (or California, for DLR) which allege some kind of personal injury at WDW. Disney Parks, as a corporate entity, manages WDW and DLR so it takes the position it does no business in other states and therefore can only be sued in Florida or California. Disney's travel agency might do business in other states but when you sue for injuries caused at WDW or DLR, you have to sue Disney Parks, the entity that operates the Theme Parks. The Louisiana court recently agreed with Disney and transferred the lawsuit to federal court in Florida. (This decision is also attached).

    The case is already complicated. The LaCombes fired the lawyers who filed the complaint and those lawyers have now sued (essentially) the LaCombes to collect their fees if the LaCombes win. The lawyers claim they are due 40% of any recovery which is probably not unethically excessive but enough of a percentage to make me snarkily comment that perhaps these lawyers should be more circumspect about alleging Disney permitted "parasitic, blood-sucking insects" in hotel rooms.
     

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    Last edited: May 15, 2019 at 2:36 PM
  18. MrKnight

    MrKnight Former WDWCM & Proud DIS Member

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    Historically the media (especially local media outlets) have always had a significant fascination and overall bias towards any story that sheds negative light on Disney.
     
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  19. Princess Jes

    Princess Jes DIS Veteran

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    Thanks Jack!
    I do love your legal overviews of cases like this, especially given i'm not familiar with your legal system over there, it makes it much easier to understand!!
     
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  20. jcb

    jcb always emerging from hibernation

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    Thanks for responding. My point was more a question of timing. Why no publicity in August 2018 but a lot of publicity now. Lawsuits typically get the best press when filed. In fact, lawyers have been known to issue press releases when they file a new Complaint and, sadly, many news outlets publish those press releases verbatim.

    Here, the only "new" event was the case being transferred to Florida federal court. I surmise the local press monitor Florida federal court filings for anything related to Disney. I do. So far as I can tell, there wasn't any publicity about this lawsuit before the transfer.
     
  21. hertamaniac

    hertamaniac Give me 95 degrees everyday

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    Very good information. Is there a strategic advantage in having the lawsuit limited to Florida or California for Disney Parks (I can think of a few)? Does this limitation also apply to international Disney theme parks (minority ownership except Paris)?
     
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