Preliminary Approval Given for $2.45 Million in Bedbug Lawsuit

In a four-year-old class action lawsuit brought by elderly and disabled bedbug-bitten residents of two downtown Des Moines apartment buildings.

The 300 current and former residents of Elsie Mason Manor and Ligutti Tower could receive payments ranging anywhere from $200 to $6,000. They are seeking money for back rent, lost property and other hardships. These bedbug problems began in 2007.

This lawsuit ended up in the Iowa Supreme Court, which had been asked to decertify the class action status. The court deadlocked, which means the lower court’s ruling allowed the class action status to stand. The case settled before it went to trial.

Officials say that the settlement could have implications for similar cases.

Residents of the two downtown towers have said that they have been stared at and stigmatized due to the bedbug infestation, which is now under control.

Resident Jo Ann Meyer said, “You go anywhere, a grocery store, a doctor’s office, anywhere. Everybody just backs off when they hear you live at Elsie Mason Manor.”

The residents of the two towers claim that building managers were slow to react to the infestation that left scars on their legs, arms and necks from wounds caused by the bedbugs.

Bedbugs can result in cimicosis (a skin rash), bronchial asthmatic reaction, scratching at the bites can create sores, which can become infected, and the bites can potentially result in anaphylactic shock in some people. Most bedbug victims are treated with antihistamines and corticosteroids.

The settlement money will come from three sources:  $2 million will be paid by the insurer of American Baptist Homes of the Midwest, which previously owned the two buildings; $350,000 will come from the development group that bought the properties in May 2013; and $100,000 will come from the insurer of ABC Pest Control, Inc., which formerly services the buildings and is listed as a third-party defendant.

A judge has scheduled a three-day hearing to hear objections to the proposed settlement. If the judge approves a final settlement, monies will be distributed from a fund set up by the court.

This lawsuit has been ongoing for five years. It is one of the first brought under Iowa’s consumer protection law, which went into effect in 2009.

Bill Brauch, consumer protection division director at the Iowa attorney general’s office said the group used a 2009 state law called the “Private Right of Action” law to make its case. Iowa was the last state in the U.S. to enact such a law, which allows consumers to sue businesses that engage in deceptive practices, unfair practices, or misrepresentation or that fail to disclose material facts.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of bedbug bites, you must have sought medical attention as a result before you can file a lawsuit. Taking photos is helpful. It is also important to have proof of where you were when you were bitten (if at a hotel, cruise, or other location) with credit card statement and the bedbugs must have required you to see a doctor or go to a hospital. For more information, contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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