Jury sides with Petco in $20 million ‘rat bite fever’ death case


SAN DIEGO (KFMB/CNN) – A jury in California has ruled Petco Animal Supplies is not liable for the death of a child who contracted “rat bite fever” from a rat bought at one of its local stores. The family of 10-year-old Aidan Pankey sued for $20 million, accusing Petco of not doing enough to test rats for the disease.

“I feel sad because the big message that I’m getting is, ‘Let the buyer beware,’” said Sharon Pankey, Aidan’s grandmother. “One of the things we hoped would come out of this (was that) Petco would take more responsibility and let people know by the way.”

Aidan’s father, Andrew Pankey, sued Petco and Barney’s, Inc., the company that supplies Petco with the rats, accusing them of selling his family an infected rat, of not doing enough to prevent infected rats from being sold and not adequately warning consumers. Aidan got sick and died within two weeks of buying the rat.

“It was such a hard journey for us to go through. We didn’t want other people to have to go through that,” Sharon Pankey said.

But jurors said it was the liability form Sharon Pankey signed that had a big impact on their decision. The waiver stated, “I release Petco from any and all responsibly related to illness, injury or damage that may occur from exposure to my pet.”

Juror Jerome Rideaux admits the fact that a child died made this case more difficult.

“It was difficult to hear that, but the judge said from the beginning, ‘you have to put sympathy aside and look at the facts of the case,’ so that’s what we did,” Rideaux said.

As for Aidan’s grandmother, “I’m grateful for the time I had with him and that’s where I have to be right now,” Sharon Pankey said, adding a warning to consumers: “”Don’t assume something you buy from a big company is safe.”

Sharon Pankey says this fight is far from over. She plans to take Aidan’s case to the CDC and to legislators. Attorneys are also appealing and say they will end up back in the courtroom.

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