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Jury in Prince George’s County awards woman $100,000 in bedbug case

Adult bedbugs are about 3/16 of an inch long with oval shaped bodies. People develop itchy rashes or welts when bitten by one. (Ben De La Cruz/The Washington Post)

A jury awarded a six-figure settlement to a woman who filed a lawsuit against hotel giant Red Roof Inn after she said she suffered injuries from bedbugs at one of their properties in Prince George’s County.

Stacey Belle, of Winston Salem, N.C., said she stayed for one night in January 2014 at one of the chain’s hotels in the 6100 block of Oxon Hill Road. She woke up itching. When she turned on her lights, she saw welts covering her arms and hands, lifted her pillow and found bedbugs crawling.

“She was completely disgusted,” said her lawyer Daniel Whitney, of Towson.

In the lawsuit, Belle claimed that the Oxon Hill motel had previously found bedbugs in guest rooms and treated infestations. But the hotel did not check that Belle’s room was free of bedbugs before it rented it out to her, the lawsuit claimed.

On Tuesday, a Prince George’s County jury awarded Belle $100,000 as compensation for her bites and subsequent distress. Whitney, her attorney, said he believes it is one of the biggest sums in damages in Maryland that has been awarded against a hotel for a bedbug case.

In an e-mailed statement, a Red Roof Inn spokeswoman said Thursday that the company “disagrees” with the jury’s award and “plans on exercising all of its rights related thereto.”

Bedbugs generally feast on the blood of sleeping humans. It was nearly eradicated in the United States in the 1950s with potent pesticides, including the since-banned DDT.

The tiny insect, however, survived in other parts of the world and has made an unexpected — and many would argue — unwelcome return to the United States since the late 1990s. Bedbugs have been known to show up in college dorms, government buildings, the offices of tech giant Google and the luxury New York hotel Waldorf-Astoria.

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

In Maryland, Belle's lawyer — Whitney — has become known locally for filing dozens of lawsuits that seek a total of millions of dollars in damages related to bedbug cases. He said most of his cases are against apartment building owners and managers who the victims say were negligent in dealing with infestations.

Whitney has become known as the “bedbug attorney.”

“Bedbugs are a constant everyday occurrence,” he said. “It’s a growing problem. People don’t realize how pervasive it is.”

Staff writer J. Freedom du Lac contributed to this report.