SAN FRANCISCO (NYTIMES) - A family in California whose son was permanently scarred by bedbug bites has been awarded nearly US$1.6 million (S$2.1 million) by a civil jury.
It was the highest amount ever paid to a single family in a US bedbug case, according to the family's lawyer.
Lilliana Martinez, 34, said the problem began in 2012, two years after she and her husband moved into an apartment in Inglewood, California. They discovered that their three-year-old son, Jorge Maravilla, had red spots all over his body, including on his face.
Concerned, they took him to the hospital. The diagnosis? Bug bites.
"As soon as I found out, I was horrified, because I had never seen something like that before," she said.
The doctor told the couple to search their house for pests, and that's when they found the bedbugs.
Her daughter, who was about three months old at the time of the infestation, was also bitten, the bugs feasting on her back as she slept, Martinez said.
On Monday, after deliberating for a day, a civil jury in Alhambra, California, ordered the owner of the apartment, Amusement Six Apartments, to pay the family US$1,593,500.
Their lawyer, Brian Virag, recently won a case that awarded US$3.5 million to residents of a large apartment complex in Los Angeles that was infested with bedbugs.
"I really think it's important to give a voice to those who don't have a voice or who can't stand up for justice on their own," Virag said.
Martinez said she and her husband told the management company, Westland Industries, about the infestation right away and were instructed to throw out all of their furniture, including the baby's crib.
The management company then sent someone to fumigate the apartment, blanketing it in white powder.
"All we could do is just vacuum a little place on the floor," Martinez said.
She and her husband slept in that spot, their children between them.
"How am I going to lay my newborn baby and my three-year-old right where everything is?" she recalled thinking at the time. "But we didn't have anywhere else to go."
They continued to get bitten and made numerous complaints. Finally, after they had lived with the bugs for nearly four months, the management company removed the carpeting in the apartment, which helped end the infestation. They stayed for two more years before eventually moving out in 2014.
That year they sued Amusement Six Apartments for breach of warranty of habitability, emotional distress, negligence and breach of contract, among other charges.
The family endured "slum-type living conditions" in the apartment, according to the complaint, including a cockroach infestation. They also suffered discomfort, sleeplessness, property damage and emotional distress, according to court documents, as the bedbugs infiltrated their belongings.
The lawyers representing the company declined to comment on Wednesday.
Jorge, now eight years old, had the strongest reaction to the bites. He still has scars on his legs, arms and torso from constant scratching, Martinez said. She's hoping they can find a way to remove the marks with some of the money.
The jury's verdict was "a great relief", Martinez said, and brought justice to her son. They went to court for him, she said, "because this marked him for his life".