San Diego

Verdict in Rat Bite Fever Trial: Petco Not Negligent or Liable in Boy's Death

Aidan Pankey, 10, died in 2013 after handling a pet rat purchased from Petco

A jury has found pet retailer Petco not negligent or liable in the case of a 10-year-old boy who died from bacteria carried by his pet rat bought at a San Diego-area Petco store.

The verdict was delivered in a San Diego courtroom Thursday. The jury decided Petco did enough to warn the boy's family of the possible risks and dangers of owning a pet rat, and therefore was not negligent in the boy's death.

A juror spoke to reporters following the verdict, discussing how the jury ultimately came to a decision:

Sharon Pankey, the grandmother of the victim, also spoke with reporters:

"I feel sad," she said. "It took us three months to find out what [Aidan] died of."

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.

"If you have a rat, be very aware that it not only can, but might, carry bacteria that causes rat bite fever," Sharon added. "Be aware when you go to your doctor."

On June 12, 2013, Aidan Pankey was rushed to a 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," contracted from exposure to rats infected with bacteria.

A short time prior to Aidan's death, the boy's family had purchased a pet rat from a Petco store in Carmel Ranch. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) later confirmed the family's pet rat was infected.

NBC 7's Megan Tevrizian has the details behind the case and how Petco has responded to the family's request for payment for damages.

In late February 2014, Aidan's father, Andrew Pankey, filed a lawsuit against Petco. Andrew Pankey asked the San Diego-based company for $20 million in damages.

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. Gomez said that in 2013, any rat sold by Petco had a 50/50 chance of carrying the bacteria.

NBC 7’s Megan Tevrizian reports on the opening statements in the case stemming from the 2013 death of 10-year-old Aiden Pankey.

The trial for the rat bite fever case began in late March. After three weeks of testimony, closing arguments were delivered Tuesday. In closing arguments, attorneys representing Petco, including Kimberly Oberrecht, emphasized that rat bite fever is extraordinarily rare and treatable.

"[There is a] very, very, very minimal risk of getting rat bite fever," Oberrecht said in court, adding that of the five million rats sold by Petco, the company has only had 45 claims of people getting sick from bacteria infected rats.

NBC 7’s Gaby Rodriguez reports on opening statements in the case of 10-year-old Aiden Pankey who died in 2013 of rat  bite fever. The boy had just bought a rat from Petco.

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

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