Yvonne Rollins, 56, of Spring Valley, N.Y., is suing InterContinental Hotels Group, seeking more than $7 million, alleging negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y., Rollins said that the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites in Laurinburg, N.C., had a duty to provide her a "vermin-free" room during her two-night stay in October as she visited the area for a family reunion.
According to the suit, Rollins awoke to her cell phone ringing on Oct. 19, turned on a light and saw "something run across her pillow." That's when she noticed welts on her left wrist, arm, and hand, as well as a "huge hickey" on her forehead.
When she pulled back the seam of the pillow case, "hundreds of bedbugs scurried out," the suit says. Rollins, who was staying in the room with her aunt, screamed and ran to tell a man working at the front desk, who agreed to check it out.
"Yeah they're bugs all right," he told her, scooping them into a cup and photographing them, as he planned to take them to a manager. With no other rooms available, he offered Rollins sheets to change the bed, but she declined, staying on the second-floor with a relative.
"This isn't a case about whether the hotel exterminated," said Alice T. Crowe, a lawyer for Rollins. "This is a case about a hotel's failing housekeeping practices."
Rollins, who sought medical attention after the attack and was prescribed medication to treat anxiety, also suffered a "persistent nervous cough" because of the episode, the lawsuit filing says, adding that doctors also told her that her condition might compromise her recovery from breast cancer, since bedbugs are known to carry some pathogens.
"It becomes a concern to know that," Crowe said.
Bennett Gershman, a law professor at Pace University, said that such suits are usually about negotiating a settlement, rather than hoping to collect full damages - in this case more than $7 million.
But Crowe bristled at any such suggestion.
"What price would you put on someone's dignity?" Crowe said.
Rollins, who works part-time as a nurse, said Thursday that she has mostly recovered from the incident.
"I'm hanging in there," she said. "It happened in October so most of that has worn off, the effects."
Rollins filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2000, but said her financial affairs are in order and the lawsuit isn't about money.
Executives at InterContinental Hotels Group could not immediately be reached for comment.