A jury this week found that Petco was not to blame for the death of a 10-year-old boy who developed a fatal illness after handling a pet rat that his grandmother bought from one of the company’s stores in San Diego, according to reports.
Aidan Pankey contacted rat-bite fever about two weeks after the rat was purchased; he died in June 2013, the family said in a lawsuit filed against the pet-store chain in February 2014.
The San Diego County jury found that Petco was not negligent when it sold the pet rat, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
The verdict was read Thursday, a day after the jury reached its decision, according to the newspaper.
Nearly four years ago, Pankey went to Petco’s Carmel Mountain Ranch location with his grandmother and picked out the male rat, which he named “Alex,” the Union-Tribune reported.
About two weeks later, Pankey woke up one night in pain, with a fever and stomach problems, according to the lawsuit. He appeared lethargic and pale.
The child was rushed from the family’s Santee home to a children’s hospital on June 11, 2013. He died within hours of being taken by paramedics to the hospital.
The county medical examiner confirmed Pankey’s cause of death was streptobacillus moniliformis, also known as rat-bite fever.
After his death, Pankey’s family sued Petco for $20 million, alleging the company failed to ensure it was selling healthy rats or failed to prevent them from becoming infected. The complaint alleged strict liability, negligence and breach of warranty.
“The rat that killed Aidan appeared safe, but was in fact defective and dangerous and defendants failed to adequately warn of such dangers,” the lawsuit stated.
However, the jury found that Petco adequately warned consumers of the potential dangers of rats, and instructed them on how to handle the rodents safely.
“They did what they could to prevent any kind of spread of disease,” James Wigdel, the jury’s foreman, told the Union-Tribune.
One of the attorneys representing the boy’s family said they plan to file an appeal.