A civil trial has begun in the heartbreaking case of a 10-year-old boy whose death from rat bite fever his parents have blamed on the store that sold the rodent.
Aiden Pankey died in 2013 after contracting the rare and deadly bacteria from a rat purchased at a San Diego Petco by his grandmother.
Aiden's family is suing the pet store giant, claiming it failed to protect consumers from potentially dangerous pets. Petco says it acted legally and it's impossible to test every rat for the bacteria and said its pet sourcing is generally safe.
“[Petco] had knowledge that its customers, children, it was selling its pet rats to, were contracting rat bite fever from those rats and getting very, very sick,” attorney Bibianne Fell argued on behalf of the Pankey family at opening statements Wednesday.
In 2013, Aiden was rushed to a San Diego hospital with severe stomach pains. Hours later, he was dead.
The CDC later confirmed the boy's pet rat was infected with streptobacillus moniliformis, better known as rat bite fever, and had passed it on to Aiden.
But according to the store's attorney, cases like Aiden's are extremely rare.
Petco says it sold nearly 5 million rats between 2001 and 2013 with only 16 claims of people contracting the disease and the people in those cases were treated and recovered.
What's more, Petco says the boy's grandmother, like all other Petco customers, signed a document about health hazards when she purchased the rat.
Petco attorney Kimberly Oberrecht called the case a "sad and tragic situation," but said the situation is not unique to Petco.
"There are risks with owning any pets," Oberrecht said.