A San Diego jury returned a defense verdict after deliberating for less than one hour in a closely watched habitability case involving a plaintiff claiming significant injuries from bedbugs. WSHB partner Paul Lewis successfully argued to the jury that plaintiff’s claim for over $500,000 in damages should be rejected in its entirety, a decision they embraced wholeheartedly.
“We are seeing increased filings for habitability claims following the lifting of eviction moratoriums around the nation,” said trial lawyer Paul Lewis. “This case is notable because it involves bedbug issues not in the context of an apartment like we usually see, but in the context of a hotel stay. Regardless of the place of injury, this verdict is instructive as to how juries currently view bedbug claims. When jurors are sitting in trial for five days listening to testimony with masks on due to the COVID-19 pandemic seeing some bug bites that are resolved with minimal scarring by the time of trial does not seem very significant.”
With this defense verdict, Lewis maintains a four-case winning streak at trial. “Paul is a skilled trial lawyer,” said WSHB founding partner Kevin Smith. “His last four cases have resulted in defense verdicts. Moreover, this is the second defense verdict returned in San Diego County in the last month – the other defense verdict brought home by WSHB partner Ranjan Lahiri.”
In a week-long trial, plaintiff alleged bites from bedbugs while staying at the hotel in July 2016. Graphic testimony was given detailing multiple bedbug bites which led to permanent physical scars as well as emotional problems including a diagnosis of PTSD. Plaintiff called three expert witnesses to testify. Defendant strategically called no experts and relied solely on percipient witnesses. After the plaintiff’s case-in-chief Paul Lewis, the partner handling the case from inception through trial, moved for non-suit as to all causes of action and punitive damages. The court granted the motion for non-suit as to battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraudulent concealment and punitive damages. Claims of negligence and breach of contract remained for the jury to decide.
In closing arguments plaintiff’s counsel sought over $500,000.00 in damages. Paul argued to the jury that they should award plaintiff nothing as she did not meet her burden of proof. After less than one hour of deliberations the jury returned an 11-1 defense verdict. Plaintiff now faces paying costs.