A Brazilian model is suing a California hotel after alleging she was bitten across her entire body while staying in a bedbug-infested room two years ago, and her attorney says the incident has affected her ability to model and has left her with psychological trauma.
Sabrina Jales St. Pierre, who has modeled for brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Victoria’s Secret and Versace, claims she was just one night into her stay at the Palm Desert Embassy Suites hotel in 2016 when bedbug bites appeared across her body.
In pictures documenting the bites, quarter-sized welts can be seen along the model’s legs, back and shoulders, and, according to her attorney, Brian Virag, Jales St. Pierre had to seek medical attention for the bites that didn’t immediately heal.
“She was there for a modeling job, and the bites got worse and worse every day,” Virag, who specializes in bedbug litigation through his firm, My Bed Bug Lawyer, tells PEOPLE. “It really was a traumatic experience for her physically and emotionally.”
Virag says the incident made a “significant impact” on Jales St. Pierre’s career as a model, and left her embarrassed and ashamed of the marks that covered her body.
“For her, being a high profile model, her skin has to be perfect,” Virag explains. “No blemishes or things like that. With that happened at the hotel, it was obviously an emotional experience for her.”
Jale St. Pierre’s bites are some of the worst he’s come across, Virag adds.
“When I saw those photographs, I was of the opinion that this had to be a severe infestation situation,” he says. “I’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of cases, and her bites are some of the most horrible that I have seen.”
As detailed in a complaint filed in the Riverside County Superior Court, according to the Desert Sun, Jales St. Pierre is suing the hotel for monetary and punitive damages. Virag also alleges the hotel did not keep up with pest control protocols, which placed guests in danger of bug infestations.
Virag described the incident as a “massacre.”
Today, Virag says Jales St. Pierre — who now lives in New York and recently welcomed her first child — still experiences nightmares from the incident.
Carlos Mendoza, the general manager of the Palm Desert Embassy Suites hotel, denied the allegations in a statement to PEOPLE.
“The comfort, health, safety and security of our guests is of the utmost importance,” Mendoza says in the statement. “We have a very comprehensive protocol in the event [of] any situation affecting their personal wellbeing.”
Mendoza says management quickly relocated Jales St. Pierre to another room when she reported the incident, and then inspected the room for the parasites.
“The inspection of the room did not reveal any evidence of bedbugs. The hotel took additional precautionary steps by contacting an outside pest control company,” Mendoza says. “The pest control company reported and documented there was no evidence of any pest in the room including bedbugs. We deny the allegations put forth in the press and social media.”
Mendoza says the hotel also dry cleaned all of Jales St. Pierre’s laundry as a “gesture of hospitality” after the alleged bedbug incident.
Virag recently represented a California family who sued the owners of their apartment complex after their then 3-year-old son was scared by bedbugs. Years after the incident, a jury awarded the family $1.6 million in damages.
“People have an expectation that they’re going to be safe when they’re guests at a hotel,” Virag says. “When that doesn’t happen, it is really considered a betrayal of trust.”
He adds: “It’s extremely important for hotel operators to maintain a proactive policy toward bedbugs, rather than a reactive one.”