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 Insects in Civil Lawsuits

Summary: Insects are sometimes used in both criminal and civil court proceedings. Sometimes insect development can be used by crime scene investigators while other times the mere presence of insects is the subject of a civil lawsuit.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

Criminal and civil liability cases

A relatively small number of insects account for most of the interaction between entomology, the study of insects and related arthropods, and the law. The cases that stimulate the most public interest involve insects that provide evidence in homicide investigations and there now is a special branch of entomology devoted to these questions called "medicocriminal entomology" or forensic entomology (see What is Forensic Entomology?).

Forensic entomology, however, also includes insects, or the damage they cause, that are the subject in civil liability lawsuits. These cases may involve wood boring insects, product contamination, and medical myiasis. The most common insects are powderpost beetles and siricid wood wasps, or horntail wasps, and certain flies. More recently bed bugs have become the subject of numerous civil lawsuits.

Medical myiasis is the condition in which fly larvae infest living tissue. Sometimes, as in the case of maggot therapy, using fly maggots to clean wounds, this is deliberate and beneficial. Often, however, the infestation is accidental. Accidental myiasis can occur by ingestion of fly eggs (intestinal myiasis, usually in children) or when open wounds are left unbandaged on incapacitated patients. The wounds attract certain fly species which lay eggs in the wounds. While the myiasis may not always be medically harmful, it sure provokes a strong reaction, and sometimes lawsuits, from those involved.

Product liability cases involving both powderpost beetles and siricid wood wasps, or horntail wood wasps, are common as well. Both insects have larval stages that bore into and damage wood. In both insects the larval period can be sufficiently long that larvae, that began their develop in the forest or sawmill, may emerge once the wood has been built into a home. When these insects finally emerge as adults the damage they do can generate a lawsuit. The primary question often comes down to when did the initial infestation occur and, therefore, who is responsible for the damage. Other examples of insects in civil liability lawsuits often involve some type of food product contamination from stored product pests.

Related Articles

Powderpost Beetles

Insects That Damage Wood

If you need assistance with a specific case please contact me at [email protected]

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