Lawsuit against Petco: Trial over boy's rat bite fever death begins

Posted at 8:30 AM, Mar 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-30 10:42:46-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Opening statements began Wednesday in the case of a boy who died after being bitten by a rat that was purchased from a Petco store.

Ten-year-old Aidan Pankey died in 2013 from rat bite fever two weeks after the pet rat purchased by his grandmother bit him.

In a lawsuit filed against Petco, the Pankey family claims the store sold them a diseased pet rat.

"What this case is about is Petco selling rats that had a deadly bacteria to people, including children, and as a result 10-year-old Aidan Pankey died," said Bibianne Fell, the plaintiff's attorney.

In court, Fell painted the picture of a little boy who never got the chance to grow up and a grief-stricken dad who will never get to experience more special moments shared between a father and son.

She showed a video of Aidan Pankey doing a flip on a trampoline, something she said was supposed to be a gift to his dad on Father's Day.

"You'll hear that Aidan never had the chance to give that to his father because shortly before Father's Day, Aidan passed away," Fell said. "Andrew (Aidan's father) was able to find this on his phone after he had died."

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During her opening statement, Fell wrote down the names of people from across the country she said contracted rat bite fever from Petco rats. She said this is an illness Petco knew of.

"These are all the people who got very sick, reported it to Petco all before Aidan Pankey ever walked in to purchase his rat," she said. "You will hear that the warnings didn't change, the process didn't change."

In the defendant's opening statement, Petco's attorney Kimberly Oberrecht said, "From 2001 to 2013, Petco sold around 5 million rats -- 5 million."

Of those, she said, there were 16 claims.

"All of those people in those prior claims got treatment, got antibiotics and recovered," she said.

Oberrecht told the jury there are risks with owning any pet. She said rats carry bacteria that can make you sick.

Petco knew this and is not denying it, but Oberrecht said Petco warned about it.

"There is no way to prevent rat bite fever in these rats that are sold, and it's been this way for a very long time," she told the jury.

Oberrecht said rat bite fever is a rare disease, but one that's very treatable.

Oberrecht read from a document Aidan's grandmother signed when she purchased the pet. She said it states: "I release Petco from any and all responsibility related to illness injury or damage that may occur from exposure to my pet."

"Ms. Pankey signed this document acknowledging that she read it, that she read the caution statements," she added.