Jury finds Petco not responsible for boy’s death after rat bite

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — A jury decided Thursday Petco was not liable for the death of a 10-year-old boy who contracted an infectious disease after being bitten by a rat purchased at the pet store.  

A jury found that Petco Animal Supplies was not negligent in the death of a 10-year-old Aidan Pankey of Santee. Jurors also found that Petco properly warned consumers about the dangers of owning a pet rat. A decision was reached late Wednesday.

In closing arguments Tuesday, an attorney for plaintiff Andrew Pankey said he should be awarded $20 million for the loss of his son, Aidan, who died June 12, 2013, just two weeks after his grandmother bought the pet rat from a Petco store in Carmel Mountain Ranch.

Petco’s lawyer countered that the company does everything it can to prevent "rat-bite fever" and warns consumers of the rare condition when they buy a pet rat.

Plaintiff attorney John H. Gomez told the jury that Petco knows the rats it sells are likely to carry "rat-bite fever" and buries information about RBF on the back of a companion animal card. Gomez said there was no way to predict if a consumer was going to get an infected rat from Petco, which he said could have tested each rat before sale or stopped selling the rodents altogether.

Gomez also claimed Petco hid its data on testing rats for RBF from the federal government. He told the jury that Petco makes millions of dollars from rat sales and doesn’t want the federal government to tell it to stop.

Petco attorney Kimberly Oberrecht told the jury that Petco was a leader in developing a test to see if a rat carried RBF. She said there was no way to determine what percentage of rats have the disease and there is no way to stop it.

"They (Petco) warn about it because they know they can’t get rid of it," Oberrecht told the jury. "It’s still very rare."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pet rats are fine to be in a home as long as they are handled safely. Consumers are not supposed to put a rat in their face or share food with a rat, the Petco attorney said.

She said the plaintiff had not proven there is a substantial risk of getting RBF by purchasing a pet rat and scoffed at the $20 million in damages suggested by Gomez, saying the plaintiff should not get even $1 million.

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