It took Southern California lawyer Brian Virag only seven years practicing bed bug law, as he calls it, to score the largest verdict in a bed bug case in the history of the United States.
In the case against Park La Brea, one of the largest apartment complexes in California, a jury returned a verdict of $3.5 million last month for 16 renters who experienced bedbugs in their units. Though their combined medical costs were roughly $2,200, the jury awarded millions more due to the emotional duress the plaintiffs endured.
“It’s really a traumatizing experience to go through bed bugs, because you’re living with it,” Virag said. “It affects every portion of your life, from being able to sleep to being able to go to work. You go to work with bites all over your body. It’s humiliating; there’s a lot of shame involved.”
A representative from Park La Brea did not yet respond to a request for comment. The complex was represented by a team of lawyers from Sedgwick, which closed at the end of last year.
Virag operates his own firm, My BedBug Lawyer, that exclusively handles bed bug cases. Just this past fall, he secured a $546,000 verdict for a family who experienced bed bugs for one night in a hotel.
Park La Brea, Virag said, became aware of its bed bug problem in 2008. The apartment complex had an onsite pest control operator, which made recommendations on how to deal with the problem, like educating tenants about the issue and employing specially trained dogs to sniff out the bugs.
But the complex went with its own methods, like chemical treatments, which didn’t solve the problem, Virag said. He said it was that oversight that perhaps struck a chord with the jurors.
“I would think that what the jury was not particularly pleased with was that Park La Brea had the resources to deal with this early on and to try to deal with it in a more effective way and they didn’t,” Virag said.
The complex initially tried to settle the case to the tune of $55,000, Virag said, but the offer made him think his opponent wasn’t “serious about resolving the case.” Once the trial began, he said Park La Brea increased their offer to $200,000, but Virag didn’t bite. He wanted to wait and see what the jury did.
In their Dec. 14 verdict, the jury awarded each of the tenants between $44,000 and $580,000. Virag said the win was a tribute the credible plaintiffs he represented and the pain they endured.
“They were such a good group of folks, who all came together to seek justice. They came from all backgrounds, young, old, every place and creed. They all experienced the same thing, and it truly was a David and Goliath type of situation,” Virag said. “I mean, it was my firm — I’m pretty much a sole practitioner or close to it — battling the largest apartment complex west of the Mississippi.”