San Diego

Closing Arguments Wrap Up in Rat Bite Fever Trial

Father of a local boy is asking Petco for $20 million in damages after he died from handling a pet rat

Closing arguments wrapped up Tuesday in the case of a 10-year-old boy who died from a bacteria carried by his pet rat, bought at a San Diego-area Petco. 

In 2013, 10-year-old Aiden Pankey died just hours after he was rushed to the hospital with severe stomach pains.

Attorneys for Aiden’s father, Andrew Pankey, are asking Petco to pay $20 million in damages in the case. 

The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office ruled the boy’s cause of death was streptobacillus moniliformis, better known as rat bite fever.

His family had just bought the pet rat from a Carmel Ranch Petco, a San Diego-based company. The CDC later confirmed the rat was infected.

Attorneys for Andrew 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.

The family's attorney, John Gomez, said that in 2013 any rat sold by Petco had a 50/50 chance of carrying the bacteria.

However, attorneys representing Petco emphasized in closing arguments that rat bite fever is extraordinarily rare and treatable.

Petco’s attorney, Kimberly Oberrecht, said there is a “very, very, very minimal risk of getting rat bite fever.”

Oberrecht said of the five million rats sold by Petco, the company has only had 45 claims of people getting sick from the bacteria. 

The trial started in March and lasted nearly three weeks.

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