How to avoid bringing bed bugs home from spring break

Bed bugs are the one thing you don’t want to bring home with you when you return from spring break.

Despite their name, the insects can get into all of your furniture, even air ducts, once they enter your house.

Whether you’re staying in a cheap motel or a luxurious suite, we’ve heard horror stories about these creepy crawlers stowing away and getting into your home.

Inside your hotel room or short-term rental home, bed bugs could be lurking.

“They will stay waiting for the next host to come there,” said a bed bug expert.

You don’t think you could ever bring them home, think again.

“Bed bugs do not discriminate between the rich, the poor, the clean or the dirty,”. “If you happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, you will get a bed bug and bring it home with you.”

“Bed bugs hide really well. All they do is they come out and feed for ten minutes when you’re sleeping and they come back and hide inside the bed.”

As their name suggests, they love beds and people to feed on and they’re really hard to see unless you’re looking.

Chatman went along on a house call to demonstrate how to spot them. Expert said his crew only wears suits for extreme cases.

“So we found a bed bug on the zipper part of the mattress, of the box spring encasement,” expert said. “We see this all the time.”

So what can you do to make sure you don’t bring bed bugs home with you?

First, put your luggage in the bathroom as soon as you walk in your room or rental home. You can also place suitcases and bags on a luggage rack off the floor and away from beds or couches.

Next, check the sheets, mattress, box springs and even around the headboard.

Look for dark, rust colored spots. You may even see casings the bugs leave behind and eggs along hard surfaces like a picture frame.

If you find any signs of bed bugs, you should ask for a new room immediately.

“When you come home, do not bring the luggage in your bedroom,” Stavropoulos said. “Instead, empty it out in the garage preferably. Put the clothes in a bag and launder it when you can.”

Jim says don’t let the thought of bed bugs ruin your trip. As with most things in life, there are risks.

But following these steps should put you at a good advantage of steering clear, so that the bed bugs don’t bite.

Bed bug experts say if you notice that bugs are in your home, it’s best to call an exterminator. Don’t try to get rid of them on your own. It can cost anywhere from $500 to $5,000 to treat, depending on the severity and the size of the home.

He says bed bugs can also hide in airplane seats, bus chairs, pretty much anywhere humans sit and lay their heads and they’re the most prevalent in major cities.

Loveland (Denver) Public Library Closes Floor Due To Bedbugs

LOVELAND, Colo. (CBS4 DENVER) February 28, 2020 – Administrators of the Loveland Public Library have shut down the second floor of the building due to the discovery of bedbugs. The bugs were found in the computer lab by staff on Thursday morning.

Loveland Public Library

A cleanup of the area got started Friday morning and no one has reported having any ill-effects since the bugs were found. It will take two to three days for the cleanup process to be completed by exterminators. The director of the library told CBS4 on Friday after that dogs will be brought in to make sure the area is clear of the bugs.

“We’ve got beagles that will be coming out in a couple weeks to do a nose test to see if we have any live bugs left in the area,” said Diane Lapierre, the library’s director. “We’re all about public information and want to make sure people know what’s going on here and have the facts related to it and make a decision as to how they want to use the space or not.”

Lapierre believes the bugs did not make their way into their non-computer materials.

Bed bugs are nocturnal and are like mosquitoes — they feed on human blood leave itchy areas on skin they’ve bitten. Heat and chemicals are typically used to kill bedbugs. A trap, which uses other chemicals to attract the bugs, helps to count how many are in a room.

Loveland Library@LovelandLibrary

Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances, the 2nd floor of the Library is closed until further notice. This includes the iCreate Makerspace, the iExplore Computer Lab, and the iLearn Classroom. Please check our website for reopening time and more information.

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Uber, Lyft cars treated for bedbugs in Dallas

“Drivers either see bedbugs, someone complained, or they were suspicious of a customer and just want to make sure”

“I probably do five to 10 rideshare cars per week,” Don Brooks, owner of Doffdon Pest Control, told Dallas news station WAA. “Drivers either see bedbugs, someone complained, or they were suspicious of a customer and just want to make sure.”

One method Brooks uses involves heating a tent to nearly 150 degrees. Drivers usually leave their cars in the tent for a few hours at a cost of $250, he said, though, he also offers a cheaper solution with liquid pesticides.

On a national level, the average cost estimate for bedbug extermination ranges between $320 and $400, according to a recent report from Thumbtack, an online local marketplace for professional services.

“If you feel suspicious, just throw your clothes in the dryer for 50 minutes on high heat. Then it’s best to hop in the shower,” Brooks said.

Dallas-Forth Worth is one of the most bedbug-infested cities in the nation, according to Terminex. Only New York City and Philadelphia have topped the Texas city’s high numbers.

Experts say bed bugs can be found in ride shares

Bed bugs

Just the thought of bed bugs is enough to make most peoples’ skin crawl, but actually getting them in your house could be just as costly as it is uncomfortable; and cases are on the rise.  (KCTV5 News)

Eyewitness News 3 (WFSB) – by Matt McFarland and Olyvia Lank | February 25, 2020

The reports of bed bugs are on the rise in Connecticut.

Those whose job it is to get rid of the blood sucking bugs say they’re not just in homes anymore.

Experts described bed bugs as excellent hitchhikers. They can be easily transported into homes, hotels, and there’s another location most don’t think about.

“In general, bed bugs are not discriminatory. They’ll go whether you’re high end, low end, mid end,” said Mike Lipsett.

Mike Lipsett is nicknamed the Bug Man and he says his company, Connecticut Pest Elimination, gets calls daily.

“Anybody can get them, any facility can get them because they’re brought in by somebody,” Lipsett said.

While a nuisance, it’s important to note bed bugs don’t carry diseases like ticks or mosquitoes, but they reproduce quickly and travel easily through clothes, luggage, and other personal belongings.

Now, it has some worried about popular ride share cars.

“It very well could happen. We had a client years ago that used to take the train a lot. They happened to look in his briefcase and it was caked with it. Here’s a guy that got on a train, now that’s rare, here’s a guy that never even thought to look,” Lipsett said.

In fact, a California law firm is representing people who say they got bed bugs in ride shares. Down in Texas, one Dallas-based exterminator says he’s been treating cars.

What about in Connecticut? Experts say they haven’t seen any reports of bed bugs and ride shares.

Doctor Gale Ridge heads up Connecticut’s Coalition Against Bed Bugs and she says there’s a reason why bed bug infestation in a car would be extremely rare.

“If a bed bug was accidentally dropped in the car in the middle of winter, it’s likely to freeze to death overnight. Conversely, if it’s in a parking lot during the summer day, it’s going to die from the heat. They stress out very easily,” Dr. Ridge said.

While pest professionals use heat and chemicals to solve the problems, Dr. Ridge says one of the best pesticides people can use is simply vacuum cracks and crevices where bed bugs live.

Experts also say people shouldn’t panic.

Connecticut’s Agricultural Experiment Station has a website with plenty of detailed information, which you can find here.

Dallas bed bugs expert says he treats 5 to 10 rideshare vehicles per week

WFAA ABC8 | by Matt Howerton | February 21, 2020

Most drivers get their cars treated because they see bed bugs, get a complaint, or are just taking precautions after a ride an exterminator said.

DALLAS, Texas — A Dallas-based pest exterminator tells WFAA that he treats up to 10 rideshare vehicles per week for bed bugs, a mode of transportation that thousands turn to weekly to get around the metro.

Bed bugs have not been a great selling point for the DFW area.

Per Orkin in 2019, Dallas-Fort Worth ranked No. 10 on its list of “Top 50 Bed Bug Cities.”

Baltimore ranked number one. 

In a Terminix ranking last year, Dallas-Fort Worth was ranked third.

For Don Brooks, owner of Doffdon Pest Control, bed bugs are his life. He travels daily around the metro to rid the nuisance insects (that multiply fast) from both homes and vehicles.

“Quite frankly, they’re not racist at all and they don’t care about how much money you have,” Brooks said. “They’re bloodsuckers.”

Don Brooks
Don Brooks talks with WFAA about clearing cars of bed bugs.

Brooks’ has a unique mobile business, one that focuses on burning out bed bugs with high heat.

He pulls around heating equipment on a trailer that can heat homes up to 150°F.

Hoses run into the home and Brooks controls the temperature from the trailer.

He also puts up a tent and heats it to the same temperature to treat cars that possibly have bed bugs, and that’s where Brooks has been seeing an interesting trend.

Brooks told WFAA that he’s seeing more and more rideshare drivers.

“I probably do five to 10 rideshare cars per week,” Brooks said.

“Drivers either see bed bugs, someone complained, or they were suspicious of a customer and just want to make sure.”

Yeah, rideshare vehicles and bed bugs.

That combo is probably one that some haven’t thought about when hailing for a ride on their phone.

But it isn’t an outlandish concept when you think about how many customers rideshare drivers pick up each day.

“It’s highly likely they can crawl off of someone,” Brooks said.

In fact, the insurance company Netquote put a small study last year that said rideshare vehicles were 35,000 times more germy than a toilet seat.

One Los Angeles law firm even represents people who may have been bitten by a bed bug in a rideshare vehicle or had an infestation in their home as a result of booking a rideshare trip.

They can have their car sprayed with a liquid pesticide for a cheaper price.

“I can spray a car in 15 minutes,” Brooks said. “I usually do the backseat, the crevices, and the carpet on the floor.”

Pest control photo
Heat hoses run from Brooks’ trailer and into a tour bus to raise the temperature and kill any possible insects.

WFAA reached out to three other pest control services in the metro, and two said they use high heat to get bed bugs out of cars.

However, neither business could recount knowing that a customer was a rideshare driver.

Brooks’ revelation isn’t meant to scare anyone, he even said it wouldn’t stop him from booking a ride.

But he did say to be wary of any cars that weren’t clean, something that rideshare drivers are supposed to be on top of.

“If you feel suspicious, just throw your clothes in the dryer for 50 minutes on high heat,” Brooks said. “Then it’s best to hop in the shower.”

Elementary School Battles BedBugs

NewsChannel21 | GENESEE DEPOT, WI  — A Waukesha County elementary school is in a battle against bedbugs.

Some students went to school with bedbugs in the fall, but parents from other families are now coming to the rescue to try and prevent an infestation at school.

“Someone found it, brought it to the health room, and it was actually a bedbug,” Magee Elementary School Principal Sue Sterner said.

Sterner said the school’s fight against bedbugs started in October.

“Contacted families and did everything we could do here to prevent the spread at school,” Sterner said.

The school isolated the infestation to three families, but the public school can’t turn away students because of bedbugs.

They’re not considered a health risk.

The school’s parent teacher organization, or PTO, bought containers for all 250 students to keep belongings separate and prevent a bedbug infestation.

“I feel bad for the children. They don’t have any control over it,” said Stacy Grafenauer, vice president of Magee Elementary PTO.

As part of responding to the bedbug problem the school purchased a washer and dryer.

Half of it was paid for by the PTO.

The principal and a custodian launder possibly infested clothing daily, and the families with infestations treated their homes in ways they could afford, but the bedbugs didn’t go away.

“There were questions about why is this taking so long? Well, it’s a process,” Sterner said.

“From a public health standpoint, shouldn’t the health department jump in here and help you with this?” WISN 12 News reporter Terry Sater asked.

“Super great question again. You might want to ask them that,” Sterner said.

WISN 12 News asked the Waukesha County Environmental Health Department which said there are no local or state laws that give them authority.

Parents organized a GoFund Me campaign, raising more than $4,000 in four days to completely treat the infested homes.

The money was raised “to give some peace of mind to those families, as well as others,” Grafenauer said.

Magee Elementary School brought in a bedbug detecting dog to make sure there were no bedbugs in school.

There will also be follow-ups at the school and in the treated homes.

Bed bugs, sex, and drugs: Records detail problems at Toledo adult care homes

 The Blade logo

A Blade review of hundreds of pages of public records found that 35 individuals suffering from mental health and addiction disorders were removed from six adult care homes in Toledo as a result of concerns about poor living conditions and possible criminal behavior.

The documents, obtained by The Blade through Ohio’s public records law, provide insight into how unscheduled inspections of the homes in Toledo in December and January raised questions about residents’ access to basic care and fundamental necessities. State and local social service officials performed the unannounced inspections after they received complaints about violence, unsanitary living conditions, and even individuals in one home being sex trafficked.

State reports show inspectors found some residents weren’t being fed three meals a day. Others claimed they were assaulted by group home employees. Bed bugs infested every bedroom of one home; while in a second location investigators found broken glass, a chicken carcass uncovered on a plate in the refrigerator, a room that smelled like urine, and a mattress flanked by used condoms in the backyard.

Now authorities are trying to determine next steps, while operators of the homes in question are pushing back against what they say are unfair accusations about conditions and safety, and the improper decision to displace residents from homes where, in some cases, they had lived for more than a decade.

 Reverend Otis Gordon looks at the agenda during planning and oversight committee meeting held by the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Lucas County in Toledo on Tuesday February 11, 2020.

Lucas County Mental Health Board takes next steps in group home relocations

State Department of Health officials have largely declined to discuss the case, while the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Lucas County has defended the removals, arguing conditions found in the homes were dangerous.

Some elected leaders and mental health service advocates and experts, meanwhile, are calling for better oversight of adult care homes, which total 112 in Lucas County.

Terry Russell is director of Ohio Adult Care Facilities Association, a Columbus-based nonprofit that works with group home operators to improve care and services for residents. He believes that operators have for years been left alone to fend off the many problems that can arise when caring for mentally ill individuals. State officials must do more to ensure such homes are clean and safe, and operators are supported, he said.

“Sometimes we treat the mentally ill like commodities,” Mr. Russell said in response to the allegations surfacing in Toledo. “The mental health system has just ignored them.”

‘Imminent danger’

The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services oversees the state’s adult care home program. The program aims to provide community-based housing opportunities to adults who suffer from mental and developmental disabilities, addiction, and other issues.

The homes, usually found among common neighborhoods, are operated by private citizens or enterprises, working under state licenses. Operators must renew their license every two years, according to state law. Home inspections are done annually, each time a licensee seeks renewal, and whenever a complaint, whether anonymous or by caseworkers and guardians, is filed with the state.

The home at 68 San Rafael in Toledo on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. The mental health services department has relocated 35 people from six homes adult group homes in Lucas County due to poor living conditions.

35 Toledo group home residents relocated due to poor living conditions

Operators must adhere to several regulations, including providing three meals a day, thoroughly and routinely cleaning homes, and ensuring adequate staffing.

It was complaints about such requirements that led county officials along with the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, beginning in December, to conduct unannounced visits to eight homes in Lucas County. Eventually residents from six of those homes, all in Toledo, were removed.

Scott Sylak, the director of the Lucas County mental health board, said Ohio Revised Code gives his department authority to take action when residents are in “imminent danger.”

“I’m concerned for the health and safety of our clients which fall under our governing,” he said. “But, I’m also concerned about the providers and the operators and helping them. … We need them. We need to do a better job of supporting them and they need to do a better job of following through on the licensing requirements and addressing the issues that they know they need to address.”

Lori Criss, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, declined to discuss specifics of the individual cases.

“In general, we view residential care facilities as an important part of the continuum of people staying in the community,” she said. “It’s a service we value. We’re working with stakeholders right now on how we can improve residential care facilities.”

San Rafael Avenue

The state conducted an unannounced  visit on Jan. 17 to a group home located at 68 San Rafael Ave. in South Toledo after receiving a complaint that two women living in the four-person home were being sex trafficked. State and local mental health officials inspected the home alongside Toledo police and Lucas County sheriff’s deputies.

Inspectors on site talked to residents — unnamed in inspection reports — who said two female residents would often have “strange men” in the home and would often use drugs. Those same residents  reported their concerns to owner Clara Brank, who operates Clara Mae’s Adult Family Home, LLC.

“One resident reported that she is afraid due to the strange men in the home and one of the other residents threatened her for telling the owner what was happening,” according to a state investigation summary. “The facility owner reported that she was aware that two of the residents were having men come into the group home and she contacted case managers and gave the residents [30-day vacate notices], but did not increase supervision in the homes to ensure the safety and well-being of all…”

Sgt. Paul Davis, a spokesman for the police department, said a detective at the scene determined no one at the home was being sex trafficked, however, at least one woman was “having sex in exchange for drugs and money.”

Officials found and documented other concerns during their visit, too.

Records from the inspection accuse Ms. Brank of not providing three meals a day to residents as required by the state. Inspectors found a chicken carcass uncovered on a plate in the refrigerator, and a room in the house smelled like urine. Broken glass was observed in some areas of the house and a mattress flanked by used condoms was observed in the backyard. Residents also reported Ms. Brank only came by twice a day to bring food and pass out medications, according to state documents.

Following the inspection at 68 San Rafael, Mr. Sylak and state officials decided as a precaution to relocate residents from there, and from Ms. Brank’s other group home, located at 72 San Rafael Ave.

Ms. Brank, when reached by The Blade last week, said she “has enough supervision” at the home on 68 San Rafael Ave., but declined further comment.

“I’d rather not say anything right now,” she said.

Previously, Ms. Brank told The Blade the problems at the home started after she agreed to house an individual who was released from jail on the basis that state and local officials would help her monitor the resident. After breaking house rules, the resident received a 30-day vacate notice and was supposed to be gone by Feb. 2, Ms. Brank said, but then on Jan. 17, authorities relocated residents from the two San Rafael properties.

“I’ve been sick. I’m depressed,” she said on Jan. 30. “I didn’t do anything wrong. Why am I being closed?”

Mr. Sylak said he doesn’t have the authority to “close down” the homes and added that the state will go through a process to determine the status of affected operators’ licenses.

Douglas and Clover 

Several reported issues led officials to Delores Place III, a group home at 3521 Douglas Rd.

A resident there accused a staff member of assault after a dinnertime argument. According to state documents, the resident left the dining room area after the argument and was followed by the employee, who barged through a door and tackled the resident onto a bed. The resident cut his head on a nearby window, an injury that required staples, according to the report.

The report says the staff member did not offer assistance to the resident and a family member then came to the group home to take the resident to the hospital. The report also accuses facility owner Tracy Price of asking the resident not to file a police report “due to not having another staff member available to work.” The employee and the resident subsequently filed police reports against each other.

Attempts to reach Ms. Price were not successful.

During an unannounced complaint-based visit on Dec. 20, 2019, inspectors found live bed bugs in every bedroom, facility operators only providing one meal to residents each day, and expired food made available to residents. The facility’s license had expired 10 months earlier on Feb 2, 2019, and the state never received a renewal application, records show.

Ms. Price also owns homes at 5565 and 5238 Clover Lane. Residents from those houses were relocated because of concerns about supervision. Live bed bugs and “bed bug excrement,” were also found on mattresses inside the homes, according to reports.

Tom Johnson, who lives next door to the home at 5238 Clover, told The Blade he and other neighbors have had to call the city about trash in the backyard, which caused rats to appear.

Mr. Johnson said he worries residents are often without food and he will offer them vegetables from his garden.

“Those people don’t deserve to be treated like that,” he said.

Hadley Homes

At 2262 Collingwood Blvd., complaint-based visits were conducted on Jan. 3 and Jan. 7 after a resident alleged the operator’s son “beat him” and told him he would be thrown out of the facility.

Durell McGhee runs the 14-person adult care home under his Hadley Homes LLC. He said he didn’t learn about that complaint until he received a letter from the state on Feb. 10. He told The Blade he immediately fired his son once he got the letter — but that was 33 days after the incident. Mr. McGhee said he was in the dark during that time, wondering why residents were removed from the home.

“When I found out what the problem was I fired him immediately,” Mr. McGhee said. “They never told us a reason. If I would have known, I would have fired him right then.”

Mr. McGhee said he’s now working to better train new employees and taking other preventative steps so future problems don’t occur. But Mr. McGhee also believes county officials are “overstepping” by removing residents from the homes.

“What they’re doing is wrong,” Mr. McGhee said. “The county is totally out of order. There were people there 15 years, crying, asking them not to take them.”

Mr. Sylak defended the decision to remove residents in order to keep them safe. He also said the residents all moved willingly and voluntarily.

“We’re always going to protect people when we believe their health or safety is in imminent danger,” he said.

Attempts by The Blade to contact adult care home residents were unsuccessful.

As of Monday, no criminal charges had been filed in relation to the adult care home complaints and inspections.

Since the removals, the operators of the affected homes have been given until Thursday to provide the state a written plan that identifies how owners “will correct, or have corrected each finding,” records show.

Eric Wandersleben, a spokesman for the Ohio mental health department, said the state will then check compliance with the corrective plans through follow-up site visits.

“If the providers are still out of compliance, the department has the authority to take further action,” he said.

Mr. Russell  feels more resources need to be provided to support operators who provide adequate living conditions for residents.

Toledo city councilmen Larry Sykes and Yvonne Harper put the blame more pointedly at the state level. Both said state officials need to be doing more to regulate such homes, and ensure those who live in them receive quality care.

“The state needs to be held accountable,” Mr. Sykes said. “They need to reassess their policies. There’s a lot of questions that need to be asked.”

The Lucas County mental health board will hold a regularly scheduled monthly meeting Tuesday at 4 p.m. at 701 Adams St.

Furniture Today: Nip it in the bud!

 

Please, everyone sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite! We have all heard this as youngsters but we paid no attention. Maybe we should.

Here in Richmond, two of our elementary schools are having to close some classrooms to have them deep cleaned for … you guessed it, bedbugs. Parents are being told to put the child’s clothing in a pillow case and run it them in a clothes dryer at its hottest setting for one hour to kill the pests. Meanwhile, other schools are watching out for this new, but very old, problem.

Truthfully, I have not heard much about bedbugs over the past 50 years in the furniture industry until recently. If you read the hotel business publications, bedbugs are a HUGE problem, and there are a half dozen full-page ads for bedbug solutions or how to prevent them. There are occasional stories about entire floors of hotels being closed for cleaning and bedbug control.

I have read in travel publications to not leave your luggage open where bedbugs can climb in and catch a ride to a new home, yours. Be careful how you handle your clothes in hotels and just don’t throw them around, especially near the bed. This is not a problem at remote and backward third world countries; it is in major U.S. cities in a big way.

Unfortunately, bedbugs are quietly impacting the residential home furnishings business. The way I hear it, stores that help dispose of old beds when they deliver new ones, get their delivery trucks infested. Since most new beds are delivered wrapped, the bedbugs are getting into the upholstery on its way to be delivered. Customers are NOT happy with this free add-on and make demands on the stores. Recently, I read that the average cost of a resolving a bedbug problem is $1,700, which sounds low to me.

Upon hearing about this and also hearing about some of our larger furniture stores having many bedbug suits from consumers, maybe this is a problem our industry needs to address in a serious way before some crusading do-gooder starts suggesting laws and regulations we don’t want or need.

My wife and I own a 120-year-old wooden farmhouse on the Rappahannock River, just off the Chesapeake Bay. Over the past 20 years, we have had to call for help with a raccoon family in the attic, a large icky spider problem in one bedroom, tiny mice in a wall and a black snake that fell out of a closet near the pool table. But we have never found bedbugs!

W.W. “Jerry” Epperson, Jr. is a founder and managing director of Mann, Armistead & Epperson, Ltd., an investment banking and research firm. Jerry is the head of their research efforts and has in excess of thirty years of experience in the publication of hard/soft dollar research which focuses on demographics, consumer products, furnishings (residential and contract) and related issues. More specifically, Jerry’s research in the furnishings industry is recognized on a world-wide basis for its in-depth coverage of suppliers, manufacturers and retailers.

Wayfair Customer Forced Arbitration: A Clause for Concern

WFMY News2 | by Matthew McNamara | February 13, 2020
Forced_Arbitration
Mandatory arbitration deprives consumers of important options if a product is faulty or harmful. Here’s how to fight back.

In July 2018, Ronald Gorny woke up in his Chicago home and noticed a few small insects scurrying on his new upholstered headboard.

Gorny pulled back the sheets to find dozens of more bugs, all seemingly engorged with blood, according to a class-action lawsuit his lawyers filed against Wayfair, the online housewares company that sold him the headboard. A photo he snapped shows his finger stretching the headboard’s fabric to reveal a shiny, dark creature about the size of a pencil tip and what appears to be stains on the surrounding fabric.

Gorny was not the first Wayfair customer to say bedding products had arrived infested with bed bugs. His lawyers, pointing to comments on the website Pissed Consumer, claim a “myriad” of other customers had also complained to the company. One Brooklyn, N.Y., woman even received an apologetic email from Wayfair CEO Niraj Shah in September 2016, almost two years before Gorny’s purchase.

Did Wayfair, as Gorny’s lawyers argue, knowingly sell products infested with bed bugs? Did it investigate the complaints or try to correct the problem? Gorny’s class-action lawsuit might have shed light on those questions—but the answers may never be known: At Wayfair’s request, a judge halted the suit in June 2019 and sent Gorny’s complaint to a closed-door, virtually unappealable proceeding known as arbitration.

Gorny, it turns out, had unknowingly signed on to this process by simply using wayfair.com, each page of which contains a link to its terms of use. There, about two-thirds of the way through 4,600 words of legalese, is what the judge called the relevant provision: “Any dispute between you and Wayfair . . . will be settled by binding arbitration.”

Citing pending legal matters, both a Wayfair spokesperson and a lawyer for Gorny declined to comment.

Whether you realize it or not, chances are you, too, have agreed to arbitration on dozens of occasions, forfeiting your right to take problems—even serious ones—with a product or service to court. Arbitration clauses like the one binding Gorny have spread rapidly through the consumer landscape in recent decades, first in the financial and telecom industries and more recently—as new Consumer Reports research shows—into the realm of consumer products.

More pernicious: Because arbitration proceedings are private, and because arbitration clauses almost always forbid plaintiffs from joining together, companies can use arbitration to preemptively crush consumer challenges to their practices, no matter how predatory, discriminatory, unsafe—and even illegal—they may be.

Triggering the Avalanche

Mandatory arbitration was established on a national level in 1925 by the Federal Arbitration Act, largely as an efficient way for businesses to resolve conflicts with other businesses. Since the 1980s, however, courts have greatly expanded the ability of businesses to force arbitration in consumer and employment disputes, and a string of Supreme Court cases over the past decade have busted wide the arbitration floodgates. In the landmark 2011 decision AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion (PDF), for example, the court knocked down a California law that had tried to prevent arbitration clauses from restricting class-action lawsuits.

With that series of green lights, corporate attorneys started slipping the arbitration language into more consumer transactions, from buying an Amtrak ticket to sending a package by UPS. A 2019 study in the UC Davis Law Review Online (PDF) found that 81 of the 100 largest U.S. companies now use arbitration in their dealings with consumers.

Though arbitration clauses are common in financial and telecom services, they now also increasingly go into force when you simply buy a consumer product such as a dishwasher or TV. To get a sense of how often, CR looked at the top-selling brands in the 10 product categories receiving the most traffic on our website, plus two types of products designed for safety: bike helmets and child car seats.

The results were striking. Of the 117 brand/category combinations we examined, 71—more than half—incorporate arbitration clauses. When looking at only the most popular product categories, just over two-thirds had arbitration clauses.

Studies have shown that most consumers have no idea what they’ve agreed to arbitration. And the incursion of arbitration into the realm of products, in particular, may be under the radar. Though financial services customers expect to sign user agreements, “you don’t think of a washing machine as coming with a contract,” says Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center, a nonprofit group.

To be clear, you don’t have to sign anything—or even click “I agree” on a website—to be bound by arbitration. The clause can appear on product packaging or be buried deep in the warranties, user manuals, or—as with Gorny’s headboard—a website’s terms of use. Placing the clauses there, says Myriam Gilles, a law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York City, is “intended to obscure the immensity of the rights being forfeited.”

Multiple courts have now ruled that even contracts one party did not see or have any choice but to sign are enforceable—decisions even some conservatives see as going too far. “The law has so evolved . . . that the sky’s the limit in how many arbitration clauses corporations are going to be able to ensnare consumers in,” says Brian Fitzpatrick, a law professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., who is also a former clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia, author of the Concepcion decision.

Missing Safeguards

Companies tend to justify mandatory arbitration by claiming that it actually benefits consumers. “Arbitration is a fairer, faster, and cheaper way . . . to resolve disputes without ever having to set foot in a courtroom,” says Harold Kim, the president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, a nonprofit organization.

The relatively informal proceedings of arbitration can indeed be faster and cheaper than going to court—but fairness is another matter.

Many of the safeguards built into the court system—the right to conduct “discovery” to establish basic facts, for example—are missing from arbitration. (It’s unlikely that in arbitration Gorny’s lawyers could demand all of Wayfair’s records of bed bug-related consumer complaints, as they could in a lawsuit.)

In addition, arbitrators aren’t obligated to follow legal precedent, and your right to appeal their decisions is extremely limited. Moreover, companies that arbitrate frequently are good at choosing arbitrators who tend to agree with their position, research shows. Plus, says CR senior policy counsel George Slover, “arbitrators have a built-in incentive to heed the interest of the company in hopes of repeat business.”

But the debate over the fairness of arbitration goes even deeper. For one thing, because arbitration is conducted in private and its outcome is typically kept under wraps, the underlying problem may be kept hidden.

That was the case with financial giant Wells Fargo, which between 2009 and 2016 notoriously opened some 3.5 million bogus bank and credit card accounts in the names of real customers. Beginning in 2013, customers tried to sue Wells Fargo, but because of arbitration clauses buried in the bank’s fine print, they were forced into confidential settlements. As a result, the bank’s practices remained hidden until press reports surfaced, leading to a government investigation and, ultimately, a huge financial settlement for harmed consumers.

A related problem has to do with how arbitration often prevents plaintiffs from jointly litigating grievances, a development that could lead to the end of class-action lawsuits. “It is not an overstatement to say that if the Concepcion decision is not overruled by the Supreme Court or overturned by Congress, then class-action lawsuits could be all but dead in a decade or less,” wrote Vanderbilt professor Fitzpatrick in his book “The Conservative Case for Class Actions” (University of Chicago Press, 2019).

That plan seems to be paying off. An estimated 825 million consumer arbitration agreements were in force in 2018. Yet only about 7,000 arbitration cases are actually heard each year, according to a 2019 study by researchers at the University of California, Davis, School of Law (PDF).

The Case of Moldy Washers

Why do individual cases matter if they are often small? Because one function of civil lawsuits is deterrence—the idea that the risk of a sizable judgment from many small lawsuits combined into one prevents companies from doing questionable things to increase profits and pushes them to quickly fix problems when they arise. “The lion’s share of academic studies has found that . . . class-action lawsuits deter misconduct,” says Vanderbilt professor Fitzpatrick. “Deterrence is reason enough to keep class actions.”

Take the case of front-loading washing machines. They became popular in the mid-1990s because of their impressive performance and energy efficiency. But owners soon began complaining of mold buildup, foul smells, and ruined laundry. It turned out that the rubber gaskets around the doors trapped moisture, among other problems. Class actions involving millions of washers followed, and by 2017 Bosch, Electrolux, LG, and others settled. Whirlpool, for example, agreed to give owners at least $50 or a 20 percent rebate on a new machine, and up to $500 for repair or replacement.

Arguably even more important were changes to the marketplace motivated by the class actions. Though the problem hasn’t been eradicated, several problematic washers have been taken off the market or redesigned to be less susceptible to mold. Many now come with self-cleaning cycles.

But here’s the catch: Those companies now impose arbitration provisions. The clause added by Whirlpool, for example, says it “applies to any and all claims, disputes, or controversies of any nature whatsoever that You may raise against Whirlpool and/or its Affiliated Entities.”

So what would happen if the mold problem emerged today? For one thing, it would be hard to find a lawyer. Jonathan Selbin, lead counsel in the LG and Whirlpool suits, says it’s “highly unlikely” he would sign on to cases with such a broadly written clause in place. In fact, before taking new cases he now always asks whether an arbitration clause is in effect. “It’s become a threshold inquiry right up there with whether the problem is real,” he says. And without a lawyer consumers rarely prevail: Just 6 percent of people who represent themselves in arbitration win, research shows.

How to Protect Yourself

Arbitration, in some cases, can be a good option for consumers, provided they understand the trade-offs and can deliberately choose arbitration over the court system after a dispute arises, says CR’s Slover. What advocates object to is requiring consumers to agree to arbitra­tion before buying a product or service, and long before a dispute has arisen.

The federal Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act, passed by the House in September 2019 and now in the Senate, would ban predispute forced arbitration, including provisions that prevent people from joining class actions. In the meantime, is there anything you can do? It’s not always easy, but here are some steps to try:

Check to see whether companies use arbitration. Though this information is often buried, CR has done the hard work for you for some popular products. In other cases, look for arbitration language on your own. The clauses often lurk in links at the bottom of a company’s website under headings such as “terms of use” or “legal terms and conditions.” Search for “arbitration” and “dispute” using the “find” function. Also check the user agreements that most of us agree to when we purchase a product online or otherwise interact with a company’s digital offerings.

Don’t let down your guard when shopping offline, either. Companies put arbitration clauses in owner’s manuals and warranty materials, and on the product packaging itself.

Try to choose products from companies that don’t use arbitration. If you’re choosing between two products similar in quality and price, use arbitration as a tiebreaker. For example, Evenflo and Graco both offer top-rated convertible child car seats for about $100­—but Graco’s come with a mandatory arbitration clause. (The company did not respond when asked why it has that provision while most other car-seat makers that we looked at don’t.)

Opt-out when you can. Some companies allow consumers to opt-out of arbitration, such as the mattress maker Simmons Beautyrest. But act fast and read the instructions carefully. Companies often require you to take the step within 30 days of purchase and to use specific language.

Complain. Use social media to contact the CEO, customer service, and other consumers. In a handful of cases, doing so prompted companies to reverse course on arbitration. For example, in 2014 food giant General Mills dropped arbitration requirements that the company said applied even to people who simply downloaded coupons, after a wave of consumer outrage and media coverage. “We’ve listened,” the company wrote in a blog post in April of that year. “And we’re changing our legal terms back.”

Negotiate using the legal leverage you have. If you have a dispute and find you’re bound by an arbitration clause, know that many companies try to settle disputes informally before beginning arbitration or defending small claims cases in court. In fact, some companies may make an offer before you begin legal action.

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