On Thursday, a San Diego, California jury found in favor of PetCo after the death of a boy, 10, from an infection called rat bite fever (RBF) that he got after he was bitten by his pet rat that his grandmother had purchased for him. The jury found that the pet supply store was not negligent or liable in selling a rat which might be a carrier of the bacterial disease. The parents of the boy, Aidan Pankey, had been seeking $20 million in damages from the national pet supply company.
People reported that Pankey died two weeks after his grandmother gave him the pet rat she had bought at a PetCo store. In late February 2014, Andrew Pankey, the boy’s father, filed the unsuccessful lawsuit against the company, arguing that company knew rats they sold might possibly be carriers of rat bite fever, but did not do enough to warn customers about the potentially fatal disease.
PetCo released a statement giving their condolences to the Pankey family on the tragic death of their son. The company said their greatest commitment was to provide its customers with “the highest level of safety,” and that the company agreed with the ruling of the jury in its favor.
John Gomez, the attorney for the Pankey family, argued that despite knowing the rats they sold could be carriers of rat bite fever, PetCo did not do enough to warn and educate customers. Gomez stated in open court that the animal supply store should no longer sell pet rats unless they can come up with a way to test each rat and find out if they carry the sometimes fatal disease.
According to CBS News, the scientific term for rat bite fever is “streptobacillus moniliformis infection.” According to Gomez, PetCo sells pet rats knowing they could be carriers of the disease, but the company “buries this information on a companion animal card.”
Kimberly Oberrecht, the attorney for PetCo, argued that there is not currently a test to determine if rats are carriers of the bacterial disease. She said the company is working to develop a test, but the company had no way of knowing, until such a test is developed, if the rats they sell are carriers of rat bite fever or not.
PetCo’s attorney admitted to the jury hearing the case in San Diego that the pet supply giant warn consumers about the possibility the pet rats they sell might be carriers of rat bite fever “because they know they can’t get rid of it.” She informed the jury that the disease is “still very rare,” though there are cases of it that can occasionally result in fatalities. She added that PetCo does not have a way of knowing what percentage of the rats it sells are carriers of the disease.
Judge Eddie Sturgeon heard the case the plaintiffs brought against PetCo. The jury told him late on Wednesday they had reached a decision in the case, finding that PetCo was not negligent and also not liable for selling the boy’s grandmother an infected pet rat.
The San Diego, California Patch reported that the trial lasted for two weeks. The jury also found that Barney’s Pets, which supplied PetCo with the pet rat purchased by Aidan’s grandmother, was also “not negligent in the boy’s death.”
Despite the claims of the Pankey family’s attorney that they felt PetCo did not do enough to warn customers about the dangers of rat bite fever from the pet rats it sold, the jury ruled otherwise. PetCo, one of the jurors stated to reporters, “took multiple steps to warn customers of the possible dangers of owning a rat.” The video was shared on Facebook by NBC 7 reporter, Gaby Rodriguez.
On June 12, 2013, Aidan Pankey became sick. He experienced severe abdominal pains and was transported to a local hospital, where hours later, he died from rat bite fever. If the doctors had been able to determine sooner that Aidan had the disease, he could have been prescribed penicillin, which might have saved his life.
Gomez stated that there was a test for rat bite fever, and he said that PetCo hid from the federal government “its data on testing rats for RBF.” He claimed that the pet company did not want the federal government to tell it to stop selling pet rats, because it made millions of dollars selling them. He added that 50 percent of the pet rats PetCo sells tested positive for RBF.
Sharon Pankey, Aidan’s grandmother, said in an interview with reporters following the ruling by the San Diego jury, that she wanted “to warn the public of the dangers of owning a rat.” She told the reporters that she had not known “a store like PetCo would sell a rat that had such a high percentage of carrying [the disease].” The victim’s grandmother added she had thought only wild rats were carriers of rat bite fever.
By John Samuels
Photo Courtesy Google Earth