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Jury sides with Petco in death of boy from rat-bite fever


A San Diego jury has found that Petco was not negligent when it sold a pet rat to a 10-year-old boy who later became sick and died after handling the animal. He was taken to the emergency room at Rady Children's Hospital, where he died early the next morning.

The grandmother said the family is glad to have gotten an opportunity to raise awareness about rat bite fever, no matter how rare it may be.

A lawyer for Petco argued that those numbers were inflated and that the plaintiff's lawyers were ignoring the fact that the bacteria that causes rat bite fever can not be bred out of the animals.

She said Aidan fell ill and died within two days in June 2013, before doctors could determine that he had the disease and before they could prescribe penicillin which could have saved his life.

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Jurors also found that Barney's Pets - which supplied Aidan's pet rat to Petco - was not negligent in the boy's death either.

The San Diego County Medical Examiner's office ruled the boy's cause of death was streptobacillus moniliformis, better known as "rat bite fever", contracted from exposure to rats infected with bacteria. Andrew Pankey, the boy's father, then filed a lawsuit against Petco seeking $20 million in damages.

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.

The trial for the rat bite fever case began in late March. 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.

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The Pankey family's attorneys, including John Gomez, claim Petco failed to adequately warn the boy's family about the dangers of rat bite fever, even though they knew many of their rats had the bacteria. After three weeks of testimony, closing arguments were delivered Tuesday.

"It's not illegal to sell rats", said Kimberly Oberrecht, an attorney representing Petco, adding that although the bacteria is common in rats, it's "exceedingly" rare for humans develop an infection after coming in contact with the animals.

Oberrecht said the company had sold around 5 million rats between 2001 and 2013, but she counted only 45 reported instances of rat bite fever.

Deliberations continued through Wednesday, with a verdict reached that afternoon and read in court the following day.

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