San Diego

Opening Statements Set to Begin in Case of Boy's Death from Rat Bite Fever

The case stems from the 2013 death of 10-year-old Aiden Pankey.

Pre-trial motions began in Superior Court Monday for a case involving a boy who died after playing with a rat bought from a San Diego Petco store.

The case stems from the 2013 death of 10-year-old Aiden Pankey.

One day, Pankey was rushed to the hospital with severe stomach pains. He died hours later. 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 boy a pet rat from Petco, a San Diego-based company. The CDC later confirmed the rat was infected. 

“The boy's grandmother purchased the male rat because her only grandson wanted a mate for his female pet rat,” the family’s attorney, John Gomez, said to NBC 7 back in 2014.

In a statement, the retailer expressed their condolences about the death. 

"We are deeply saddened by the Pankey family's tragic loss," Petco said in a statement. "The health and safety of people and pets is always a top priority, and we take the family's concerns very seriously."

Ahead of opening statements, San Diego attorney Gene Iredale talked with NBC 7 about the case and what may happen going forward. Iredale is not involved with the case. 

He says Pankey's attorneys will try to drive home a particular narrative. 

“This is a rat that Petco sold. They sold it without apparently testing it to see if it suffered from rat bite fever," Iredale said. "And they sold it without giving a warning that rats sometimes develop rat bite fever."

Based off the facts of the case, Iredale said, he believes the attorneys can prove the pet company is guilty of strict liability and tort, as well as negligence. 

Petco's attorneys, he said, will likely dive into the window of time between the rat's purchase and Aiden becoming ill to see if it is at all possible the rat contracted this infection after being bought.

Either way, Iredale said, the case has potentially huge implications for the business and families with these pets.

“Almost 1.2 million households in the US have rats that they keep as pets,” he said.

Opening statements in this case are set to begin on Tuesday in Superior Court Judge Eddie Sturgeon's courtroom. 

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