US family awarded $2.1m in suit over bedbugs in home

Jorge Maravilla's face and body were covered in bug bites after the family moved into the Inglewood apartment.
Jorge Maravilla's face and body were covered in bug bites after the family moved into the Inglewood apartment.

SAN FRANCISCO • 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, said the family's lawyer.

Ms 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 home for pests, and that was when they found the bedbugs.

Their daughter, who was about three months old at the time, was also bitten, Ms 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, Mr 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.

Ms Martinez said she and her husband told the management company, Westland Industries, about the infestation and were instructed to throw out all their furniture. The firm 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," Ms Martinez said.

She and her husband slept in that spot, their children between them. They continued to get bitten.

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 and negligence, among other things.

Jorge, now eight, still has scars on his legs, arms and torso from constant scratching, Ms Martinez said. They went to court for him, she said, "because this marked him for his life".

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2018, with the headline 'US family awarded $2.1m in suit over bedbugs in home'. Print Edition | Subscribe