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Lawsuit: Bedbugs in suburban hotel force woman to cut dreadlocks

DonnBrumfield with her waist-length dreadlocks before an October 2012 bedbug incident Holiday Inn Express Palatine.

Donna Brumfield with her waist-length dreadlocks before an October 2012 bedbug incident at Holiday Inn Express in Palatine.

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Updated: January 24, 2014 7:12PM

An assistant tennis coach at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, Donna Brumfield, and her group checked into the Palatine Holiday Inn Express in October 2012 for a tennis meet.

She ended up meeting bedbugs, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court. Before the ensuing ordeal ended, Brumfield was forced to chop off her cherished, waist-length dreadlocks she had grown for 13 years, the lawsuit alleges.

“If you know how long it takes to grow dreadlocks, you understand the trauma of losing my hair,” says Brumfield, of the south suburbs, who is in her 50’s.

“Harder to explain is the trauma that affects travel for me now. I travel a lot for my work, and every time I have to stay at a hotel I just get filled with anxiety,” she said.

In the Chicago area — named first in bedbug infestations for the second year in a row — Brumfield’s lawsuit is exemplary of growing litigation over the creepy critters that have become a nuisance nationally, according to legal and bedbug-eradication experts.

The majority of the suits are between hotels and guests, or tenants and landlords.

Populations of Cimex lectularius, a bloodsucking parasite, had dropped off during the mid-20th century, but have seen an alarming resurgence across the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency.

While not known to transmit disease, the red welts left by the nocturnal bugs’ feeding — typically in a straight-line pattern of bites — can cause unbearable itching and swelling, as well as more serious allergic reactions.

It was on the second day of her stay at the Palatine hotel that a manager informed Brumfield an inspection of her room was needed because bed bugs were discovered in an adjacent room, the suit states.

She watched as exterminators confirmed the bugs in her headboard, before her relocation to another room, but by then tell-tale welts had appeared, the suit says.

“At the time she went to the urgent care facility, the red bumps extended from her hands and arms to her shoulders and neck,” according to the personal injury suit, which seeks damages of over $50,000, based on negligence. “The physician was also concerned that the bed bugs might have gotten into Plaintiff’s hair, which she wore in a long, dreadlock style.” A week later she was forced to cut her locks, the suit says.

The general manager of the hotel at 1550 E. Dundee Rd. did not return calls Thursday.

Media relations at the Atlanta regional headquarters of InterContinental Hotels Group, the chain’s owner, also did not respond to requests for comment.

“We’ve attempted to work with the hotel,” says Brumfield’s lawyer, Betty Tsamis of Tsamis Law, P.C., which in November settled for an undisclosed amount an August 2012 case against Marriott International Inc. and its former Lisle Marriott Conference Center on behalf of two women and their children bitten during a nine-day stay.

“We made what we think is a reasonable settlement offer. They were not serious about resolving the case at this stage, leaving us no choice but to file suit,” Tsamis says.

One of the first, significant hotel bedbug cases nationally was an Illinois case involving a brother and sister bitten during a November 2000 stay at a Motel 6 on East Ontario Street — Mathias vs. Accor Economy Lodging, Inc. After they sued, it was found the motel knew about the infestation but was renting rooms anyway. A Cook County jury awarded the siblings $372,000 in punitive, and $10,000 in compensatory damages. The chain’s appeal was dismissed in 2003 when a federal appeals court upheld the award.

Just last year, a New York woman sued a Holiday Inn Express in Laurinburg, N.C. for $7 million in damages for bites suffered during a two-night stay in October 2012.

“It’s a horrible thing that shouldn’t have to happen to anybody,” says Brumfield. “I’ve traveled to foreign countries and never had anything like this happen. Here at a nice hotel in the northwest suburbs? That was the most shocking thing for me.”

Twitter: @Maudlynei

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