Petco Animal Supplies is not responsible for the death of a 10-year-old boy who died after contracting an illness from a rat bought at one of the pet store chain's California locations, a jury decided Thursday.
The jury determined that Petco did enough to warn consumers about the dangers of owning a pet rat and was neither negligent nor liable in Aidan Pankey’s 2013 death, which the San Diego County medical examiner’s office ruled was caused by what’s commonly known as "rat-bite fever."
Little Aidan was rushed to the hospital with severe stomach pains and died within two days in June 2013 after being given a pet rat by his grandmother, Sharon Pankey, she told reporters.
The CDC later confirmed the boy’s pet rat was infected with “streptobacillus moniliformis,” or rat-bite fever, and had passed it on to Aidan.
In his lawsuit against Petco and Barney’s Pets — which supplied the rat to Petco — Aidan’s father, Andrew Pankey, claimed Petco knew its rats are likely to carry the infectious disease, but buried information about the dangerous bacteria on the back of an animal companion card, CNS-TV reported.
John Gomez, Andrew Pankey’s attorney, said in closing arguments Tuesday there was no way to predict if a consumer was going to get an infected rat from Petco.
He argued that the pet store giant could have tested each rat it planned to sell for rat-bite fever to determine if the rodents carried the bacteria or stopped selling rats, the television station wrote.
Petco attorney Kimberly Oberrecht said the company provides clear warnings about the danger of the disease and does everything it can to prevent the disease. She also noted there was no way to determine the percentage of rats living with the disease.
“They [Petco] warn about it because they know they can't get rid of it,'' Oberrecht told the jury.
"It's still very rare,” she said of the disease.
Andrew Pankey's lawsuit sought $20 million.
Jurors took just one day to determine neither Petco nor Barney’s Pets was liable for Aidan’s death, telling reporters that the liability form Sharon Pankey signed heavily influenced their decision.
Gomez, Andrew Pankey’s attorney, said he was “surprised” with the verdict and plans to appeal.