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.

Colorado Governor Signs New Bed Bug Law For Landlords And Tenants

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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has signed HB19-1328, a new bed bug law which requires a tenant to promptly notify the landlord via written or electronic notice when the tenant knows or reasonably suspects that the tenant’s dwelling unit contains bed bugs.

Not more than 96 hours after receiving notice, a landlord in most circumstances must hire a pest management professional to inspect and treat the dwelling unit and any contiguous dwelling units for bed bugs. Except as otherwise provided, a landlord is responsible for all costs associated with mitigating bed bugs.

The provisions in the measure are:

  • A tenant who gives a landlord electronic notice of a condition must now send such notice only to the email address, telephone number, or electronic portal specified by the landlord in the rental agreement for communications. In the absence of such a provision in the rental agreement, the tenant shall communicate with the landlord in a manner that the landlord has previously used to communicate with the tenant. The tenant shall retain sufficient proof of the delivery of the electronic notice.
  • Not more than 96 hours after receiving notice of the presence or possible presence of bed bugs, a landlord (a) must inspect or obtain an inspection by a qualified inspector of the dwelling unit, and (b) may enter the unit or any contiguous unit for the purpose of conducting the inspection.
  • If the inspection of a dwelling unit confirms the presence of bed bugs, the landlord is also then under obligation to perform an inspection of all contiguous dwelling units as promptly as is reasonably practical.
  • Except as otherwise provided, a landlord is responsible for all costs associated with inspection for, and treatment of, the presence of bed bugs.
  • If a landlord, qualified inspector, or pest control agent must enter a dwelling unit for the purpose of conducting an inspection for, or treating the presence of, bed bugs, the landlord shall provide the tenant reasonable written or electronic notice of such fact before the landlord, qualified inspector, or pest control agent attempts to enter the dwelling unit. A tenant who receives the notice shall not unreasonably deny the landlord, qualified inspector, or pest control agent access to the dwelling unit.
  • A tenant shall comply with reasonable measures to permit the inspection for, and treatment of, the presence of bed bugs, and the tenant is responsible for all costs associated with preparing the tenant’s dwelling unit for inspection and treatment. A tenant who knowingly and unreasonably fails to comply with inspection and treatment requirements is liable for the cost of subsequent bed-bug treatments of the dwelling unit and contiguous units if the need for the treatments arises from the tenant’s noncompliance.
  • If any furniture, clothing, equipment, or personal property belonging to a tenant is found to contain bed bugs, the qualified inspector shall advise the tenant that the furniture, clothing, equipment, or personal property should not be removed from the dwelling unit until a pest-control agent determines that a bed-bug treatment has been completed. The tenant shall not dispose of personal property that was determined to contain bed bugs in any common area where such disposal may risk the infestation of other dwelling units.

Rental Housing Journal | by The Editors | 6/19/19

Bed bugs at The Carlton? Guest says Atascadero hotel stay left him with ‘physical scarring’

carlton hotel_2

The Tribune | by Matt Fountain | December 3, 2019

Update, 1:45 p.m. Wednesday:

On Wednesday afternoon, Deana Alexander, general manager of The Carlton Hotel, emailed the following statement in response to Tuesday’s article:

“The Carlton Hotel takes pride in being an established premier property on the Central Coast of California, known for its hospitality, cleanliness, comfort, and value. Management takes reports of bed bugs very seriously. When a guest reports that there may be bed bugs, all measures are taken to address the situation immediately. Quarantine, inspection and eradication if necessary are the steps taken with complete concern for the guests and others that will be in that room.

Our housekeeping staff is trained and diligent about looking for the signs of bed bugs. Our mattresses have been encased in ‘bed bug’ zippered protective covering. No expense is spared when there are reports of bed bugs that have ‘traveled’ in with guests as bed bugs move around by finding their way into purses, backpacks, suitcases, briefcases, clothing, and jackets.

A Los Angeles man who stayed at The Carlton Hotel in Atascadero in 2017 says bed bugs in his room left him with physical and emotional “scarring,” according to a lawsuit filed in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

Moreover, the guest says hotel staff knew that a previous infestation in the room had not been eradicated, but “turned a blind eye” and checked him in anyway.

The lawsuit alleges hotel staff was negligent, fraudulently concealed the problem, and contributed to a public nuisance, naming the business as well as owner David Weyrich and a past manager as defendants.

The plaintiff, Geoffrey Shelden, is seeking damages of at least $25,000 for medical care and to replace personal property that reportedly had to be destroyed.

When reached by phone Monday, The Carlton Hotel’s general manager, Deana Alexander, told The Tribune she was not aware of Shelden’s lawsuit — which was filed in April — but called the allegations untrue.

After being provided the complaint, Alexander, who is not personally listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, did not respond to followup requests for comment.

Ilan Rosen Janfaza, Shelden’s Los Angeles-based attorney, declined to comment Monday beyond what’s listed in the complaint and said he was unable to immediately provide photographs of his client’s bug bites.

HOTEL GUEST ‘BITTEN DOZENS OF TIMES’

In the complaint, filed April 4, Janfaza wrote that bed bugs, “small, flat, parasitic insects that feed solely on the blood of people and animals while they sleep,” have recently been “spreading rapidly” through parts of the United States, including in five-star hotels and resorts.

Contrary to popular belief, the pests’ presence are “not determined by the cleanliness of the living conditions where they are found,” the lawsuit states, citing the Centers for Disease Control website.

The CDC says that bed bug bites have different effects on people, from no reaction to severe anaphylaxis, or allergic reaction.

Sheldon stayed at The Carlton Hotel on April 7, 2017, and the next day “awoke to itchiness and discomfort on his body, but did not think much of it,” the complaint reads.

He checked out later that day. About 10 days later, Shelden “noticed that the severity of his itching had worsened and that he was in fact bitten dozens of times from head to toe.”

“He also realized that his bite marks were in a trail-type formation,” the lawsuit states.

DID THE CARLTON ‘TURN A BLIND EYE’ TO COMPLAINTS?

A doctor reportedly diagnosed Shelden with bed bug exposure on April 18, 2017.

As a result of his diagnosis and treatment, Shelden incurred costs related to medical treatment, the cost of the room and replacement of luggage and clothing, as well as other expenses, according to the complaint.

“To this day, Mr. Shelden still has physical scarring on his body and emotional scarring as a result of the bed bug bites,” the lawsuit reads.

The complaint further accuses staff at The Carlton of knowing that the room had previously been the site of a bed bug infestation that had not been eradicated when it was rented to Shelden.

The lawsuit alleges that The Carlton Hotel’s staff also “recklessly chose to turn a blind eye” to previous complaints by guests. Ignoring those previous complaints show a “pattern and culture of extreme indifference and reckless disregard for the value of human life and the rights of (the hotel’s) guests.”

“(Shelden) has suffered and continues to suffer physical injuries (including, but not limited to, bed bug bites, itching, and permanent scarring) and emotional injuries (including, but not limited to, severe embarrassment, annoyance, discomfort, pain, apprehension, tension, anxiety, and emotional distress) as a direct result of his stay at (The Carlton Hotel),” the complaint reads.

The case has a hearing scheduled in the Paso Robles Courthouse in April.

Misled About BedBugs? Ask Real Estate

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Michael Kolomatsky/The New York Times

The New York Times | by Ronda Kaysen | November 21, 2014

Q. My wife and I recently signed a one-year lease for an apartment. It included a rider stating that all apartments in our building had been bedbug-free for at least one year before our move-in date. After we moved in, we learned from the superintendent that an apartment in our building had been infested by bedbugs and treated a few weeks before our move-in date. Needless to say, we were disturbed by this news — and want to know our rights. As we understand it, the landlord is responsible for the costs of fumigating. Who is responsible for other expenses, like replacing mattresses and furniture? Since we were misled (and have the signed rider as proof), can we demand remuneration for any repairs or replacement costs we might be forced to incur?

Astoria, Queens

A. There are two plausible explanations for what happened here, neither of them good. Either your landlord was woefully ill-informed about the state of the building or he lied. In either case, I would be concerned about how effectively the infested apartment was treated for bedbugs, which are notoriously hardy creatures.

“If this is a landlord who is willing to lie on a disclosure form,” said David Hershey-Webb, a lawyer who represents tenants, “then the tenants may not have a lot of faith in the landlord to adequately address the bedbug problem.”

The New York City administrative code requires landlords to disclose whether or not an apartment has been treated for bedbugs in the last year. The measure does not include any penalties for violating the law. However, if you do get bedbugs and incur damage to your personal property, you could take the landlord to small claims court and use that erroneous disclosure form as evidence of negligence. Under normal circumstances, a landlord is required to treat the infestation and a tenant is responsible for cleaning personal belongings, Mr. Hershey-Webb said.

But before we wander too far down the road of future infestations, determine your risk. If the affected apartment is adjacent to yours or in the same line, you have good reason for concern. But if several floors and walls separate you from that apartment, your risk is considerably lower.

“If it’s an immediately adjacent unit or if it’s in that line, it could have an effect,” said Gil Bloom, the president of Standard Pest Management and an entomologist. “Outside of that, it normally does not make a difference.”

Once you have assessed your risk, decide whether you want to stay in the apartment. Ultimately, you might want to consider packing up your belongings and moving out before the bugs move in. You “have the option to try to rescind the lease on the basis of fraud,” Mr. Hershey-Webb said. Consult with a lawyer to see if you can get out of the lease. Otherwise, you may find yourself battling a bedbug infestation with a dishonest landlord.

Trending today: #Bedbugs are developing a strong resistance to most common insecticides

February 2, 2016 | by Ryan Biek | Newsy

Bedbugs are reportedly building up a strong resistance to some of the most powerful insecticides due to overuse, which means we might need to turn to non-chemical solutions to get rid of them.

Researchers from Virginia Tech and New Mexico State University tested the most common class of insecticide called neonicotinoids, or neonics, which is often combined with pyrethroids in commercial treatments for bedbugs.

Bedbugs are developing a strong resistance to most common insecticides photo

They took a group of bedbugs that came from homes in Ohio and Michigan, which had previously been exposed to neonics, and compared those bedbugs to a population that has been kept in isolation for 30 years, before the insecticide was used.

A third group of bedbugs that was resistant to pyrethroids but never exposed to neonics was also included in the study.

Depending on the specific types of neonic tested, the Ohio and Michigan bedbugs were hundreds to tens of thousands of times more resistant than the isolated group.

The third group’s results were in the middle: more resistant than the isolated group but less resistant than the Ohio and Michigan bedbugs.

Because that third group had never been exposed to neonics, the researchers believe the bedbugs may have a pre-existing resistance mechanism.

The researchers said more non-chemical methods need to be used to combat bedbug infestations. However, they noted the most resistant bedbugs in the study only came from two areas, and not all of the U.S. may be facing this level of resistance.

Chicago Tops Bedbug List for Fourth Straight Year: Report

  
January 13, 2016 | NBC Chicago

Bedbugs have apparently taken up a long-term residency in Chicago based on a new report from pest control company Orkin.Chicago topped Orkin’s “Top 50 Bed Bug Cities” list for the fourth year in a row. In all, fourteen cities in the Midwest made the list, more than any other region, according to Orkin. The pests were spotted in multiple cities in Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky.

The list includes both residential and commercial treatments.

Orkin Entomologist Ron Harrison called bedbugs “the great hitchhikers of the bug world” in a news release issued by the company. “Bed bugs can travel in luggage and other personal belongings to enter your home,” Harrison wrote. “They don’t just hide in beds – they can be found in furniture, bed posts, rugs and even electrical outlets.”

Here is the complete list of the top bedbug cities, according to Orkin:

1. Chicago

2. Los Angeles (+2)

3. Washington, D.C. (+11)

4. New York (+14)

5. Columbus, Ohio (-2)

6. Philadelphia

7. Detroit (-5)

8. Cincinnati (-1)

9. Richmond-Petersburg, Va.

10. Baltimore (+21)

11. Raleigh-Durham, N.C. (+6)

12. Cleveland-Akron-Canton, Ohio (-7)

13. Dallas-Ft. Worth (-7)

14. San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose (+2)

15. Indianapolis (-4)

16. Charlotte, N.C. (+14)

17. Houston (-5)

18. Denver (-10)

19. Atlanta (+6)

20. Buffalo, N.Y. (+6)

21. Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C.-Asheville, N.C. (+26)

22. Nashville, Tenn. (+1)

23. Phoenix (+9)

24. Knoxville, Tenn. (+10)

25. Boston-Manchester (+4)

26. Milwaukee (-11)

27. Dayton, Ohio (-17)

28. Seattle (-15)

29. Pittsburgh

30. Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News, Va.

31. Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla.

32. Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo-Battle Crk., Mich. (-12)

33. Lexington, Ky. (-9)

34. Hartford-New Haven, Conn. (+3)

35. Charleston-Huntington, W.Va. (-16)

36. Omaha, Neb. (-15)

37. San Diego (+2)

38. Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne, Fla.

39. Louisville, Ky. (-17)

40. St. Louis (+6)

41. Cedar Rapids-Waterloo-Dubuque, Iowa (-6)

42. Champaign-Springfield-Decatur, Ill. (-4)

43. Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (-10)

44. Kansas City, Mo. (-3)

45. Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto, Calif. (-18)

46. Syracuse, N.Y. (-18)

47. Colorado Springs-Pueblo, Colo. (-3)

48. Albany-Schenectady-Troy, N.Y. (-5)

49. Honolulu (-7)

50. Myrtle Beach-Florence, S.C. (-5)

Woman ‘ravaged’ by bed bugs at luxury hotel four years ago STILL suffers from shocking skin condition

July 7, 2015 | By:  Jess Galley | MirrorOnline

This is the shocking condition a woman has been left in after she was ravaged by bed bugs while on a romantic getaway FOUR YEARS ago.

Jessica Mann still suffers from skin conditions despite the original incident happening in May 2011 on a break with her ex-partner.

The 24-year-old, from Manchester, received a five-figure payout after being bitten so badly on the trip to the Dominican Republic that she was left with peeling, dry and broken skin.

At the time she stayed with then boyfriend Aaron Rigby at the Sirensis Cocotal Hotel, in Punta Cana, but after just a few days the young couple started to break out in painful rashes and blisters.

Jessica suffers from skin condition Pompholyx, which leaves the skin on her hands and feet sensitive, peeling and dry.

But since the ordeal her symptoms have significantly worsened and Jessica – who is an aircraft co-ordinator at Manchester Airport – is still suffering pain and discomfort.

Now specialist illness lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have secured payouts for the pair from tour operator Thomas Cook – despite the firm denying liability.

Mercury Press
Attack: Aaron Rigby, Jessica’s then boyfriend, was badly bitten by bed bugs on holiday

Jessica said: “I had never been on a long-haul holiday before and the trip was meant to be a special break for both of us – instead, it was a very frightening experience and I just wanted to go home.

“When you go on holiday you just never expect in a million years to suffer these issues.

“And now I have no choice but to live with my condition which seems to have been made worse by the holiday. It is immensely frustrating.

“It was supposed to be a memorable break but looking back now, I just wish we’d never gone.”

Both Jessica and now-ex Aaron required medical treatment for the rashes and sought advice from the sit doctor at the resort, with Aaron being given medication.

But after returning home Jessica needed a whole month off work to recover from the severe blistering.

They were both then treated at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport for the large, irritable red blisters, which burst, and prescribed painkillers, steroids and creams.

Clare Pearson, from Irwin Mitchell, represents the holidaymakers. She said: “This is a terrible situation in which our clients have developed extremely uncomfortable and embarrassing conditions during what was meant to be a relaxing holiday.

“Sadly such cases are not uncommon and while nothing can be done to reverse the problems Jessica and Aaron have faced.

Mercury Press
Relaxing: Jessica Mann had hoped to have the time of her life at the Sirensis Cocotal Hotel Resort

“We hope that the settlements will go some way towards helping them to take steps to put these issues behind them.

“Their story is an important reminder that everything possible should be done to ensure the safety of holidaymakers always comes first.”

Jessica added: “Nothing can change what has happened but after securing this settlement we just want to put this ordeal behind us and move on.

“It was not just the rash that spoiled the holiday, there were lots of other things wrong with the hotel.

“There were lots of insects in our hotel room and the fridge and lights in our first hotel room were not working properly.

“When Aaron and I complained to both the Thomas Cook Representative and the staff at the hotel they did not seem to take our complaints very seriously and at times it felt like I was spending more time complaining than I was enjoying the holiday.”

A spokesperson for Thomas Cook UK & Ireland said: “We were sorry to hear about Ms Mann and Mr Rigby’s experience while on holiday at the Sirenis Cocotal in the Dominican Republic in 2011.”

“Thomas Cook closely audits all the properties to which it operates to ensure that only the highest health and hygiene standards are maintained. We can confirm that the Sirenis Cocotal is no longer featured in our holiday programme.”

“It is never our intention to disappoint our customers. We are happy to say this matter has now been resolved to Ms Mann and Mr Rigby’s satisfaction, and that we have reached an agreement with their legal representatives.”

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