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Maryland lawyer bites back with bedbug lawsuits

Don't let the bed bugs bite: The Washington Sketch goes undercover and between the sheets at the EPA's National Bed Bug Summit in Virginia. Video by Gaby Bruna/washingtonpost.com
By J. Freedom duLac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 27, 2010; 5:41 PM

Daniel Whitney has staked his claim on the title of Maryland's bedbug barrister: Since Sept. 1, the Towson attorney has filed eight lawsuits on behalf of bedbug victims across the state seeking a total of more than $7 million in damages.

The claims, ranging from $100,000 to $3.55 million, are mostly against apartment building owners and managers who the victims say were negligent in dealing with infestations.

The lawsuits have made Whitney the object of scorn, with some people suggesting that he's, well . . . something of a human parasite himself.

"I'm very aware of the derogatory comments people make about me being a bloodsucker seeking large sums of money," Whitney said. "It's nonsense. These people need help."

Whitney is far from done. He says he's on the verge of filing five more bedbug lawsuits and has another 21 open files that could result in complaints.

"Potential clients keep contacting me, almost daily," said the lawyer, whose firm, Whitney & Bogris, would collect between 33 percent and 40 percent of any settlement or judgment in the cases. "I'm going to have to take my number off our Web site."

Over a three-decade career, Whitney has mostly defended corporate clients in product liability, malpractice and toxic tort cases.

"I never thought I'd become known as the bedbug attorney," he said.

Bedbug complaints constitute a relatively nascent legal niche, surfacing only a few years ago after the bloodsucking insects came back from the brink.

The common bedbug, Cimex lectularius, which generally feasts on the blood of sleeping humans, was nearly eradicated in the United States in the 1950s through liberal application of potent pesticides such as the since-banned DDT. But the apple-seed-sized insects, which survived in other parts of the world, have made an unexpected and unwelcome return here since the late 1990s.

They're showing up everywhere: In college dorms, government buildings, Google's offices - even luxury hotels such as the Waldorf-Astoria, which has been sued by guests who say they got chewed up at the New York landmark.

As the snarky legal blog, Above the Law, put it recently: "There's Only One Way to Deal With Bedbugs: Release the Sharks."

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