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Case Of California Boy Who Died From Rat Bite Fever Sent To Jury

A 10-year-old boy’s family has filed a suit against Petco and its rat supplier Barney’s Pets, claiming that the pet rat he had purchased from a San Diego store should be considered a “defective product.” Aidan Pankey, the plaintiff in the case, died shortly after he developed an infectious disease from handling the animal.

According to the lawsuit filed by the boy’s father in 2014, Andrew Pankey, Aidan’s grandmother decided to buy him a pet rat for $7.49 at a Petco retailer in their county. He played with the rat for two weeks before he died a painful death in June 2013.

The suit describes the boy as appearing “lethargic, pale, and could barely walk.” The family claims that Aidan had started experiencing “flu-like symptoms,” on the day that he died. Stomach issues and a high fever woke him up that night. He was immediately admitted into the children’s hospital where he died a few hours later. Aidan’s grandmother, Sharon Pankey, recalled the troubling condition of her grandson. She was the one who alerted the authorities.

“I put him to bed after a day at the doctor’s office, and the next thing I knew, it just was too late,” she said. I went into his room and he couldn’t speak. He was unstable on his feet. I got him down to my room and he collapsed on the floor. I called 911 because it was scaring me that his breathing was shallow and he seemed to be losing his ability to function.”

The San Diego Medical Examiner’s office affirmed that he had died from Streptobacillus moniliformis, also known as rat bite fever. It is likely acquired when people handle rats without thoroughly washing their hands afterwards, through bites, scratches or direct contact with an animal’s bodily fluids. Court documents reveal that there were no scratch marks or bite marks on Aidan’s body. Due to its relatively ambiguous symptoms, the disease has a mortality of rate of 13% if left untreated. Rat bite fever is often misdiagnosed by pediatricians and emergency room physicians, it is usually correctly diagnosed by infectious disease experts.

The family’s lawsuit claims that the retailer was aware that more than half of the rats were carriers of the disease and more importantly, they had knowledge that employees and customers have previously contracted the disease from the supplier. Petco’s director of veterinary medicine, Dr. Thomas Edling, had been planning on presenting an “oral accounting” to the CDC regarding the number of people who became infected with rate bite fever after having contact with Petco rats. The lawsuit alleges he failed to give the presentation due to the risk of Petco losing money.

Recently, the San Diego County jury ruled in the favor of Petco, claiming that it was not negligent in selling the pet rat. It ruled based on their findings that Petco had adequately warned their customers about the potential dangers of rats. The jury’s frontman, James Wigdel claims “they did what you could to prevent any kind of spread of disease.”

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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