Dad of boy who died from rat bite should be awarded $20M: Attorney

SAN DIEGO -- The father of a 10-year-old boy who died after contracting an infectious disease from a pet rat purchased from Petco should be awarded $20 million in damages for the loss of his son, an attorney for the plaintiff told a San Diego jury Tuesday.

Petco's lawyer countered that the company does everything it can to prevent "rat-bite fever" and warns consumers of the rare condition when they buy a pet rat.

Closing arguments were delivered in a lawsuit brought by Andrew Pankey, whose son Aidan died on June 12, 2013, at Rady Children's Hospital, just over two weeks after he got the male rat from a Petco store in Carmel Mountain Ranch.

John H. Gomez, an attorney for the plaintiff, told a jury that Petco knows the rats it sells are likely to carry "rat-bite fever" and burying information about RBF on the back of a companion animal card.

Gomez said there was no way to predict if a consumer was going to get an infected rat from Petco, which he said could have tested each rat before sale or stopped selling the rodents altogether.

Gomez also alleged that Petco hid its data on testing rats for RBF from the federal government. He told the jury that Petco makes millions of dollars from the sales of rats and doesn't want the federal government to tell it to stop.

Petco attorney Kimberly Oberrecht told the jury that Petco was a leader in developing a test to see if a rat carried RBF.

She said there was no way to determine what percentage of rats have the disease and there is no way to stop it.

"They (Petco) warn about it because they know they can't get rid of it," Oberrecht told the jury. "It's still very rare."

She said there was no evidence of 200 separate claims of people contracting RBF to Petco, as Gomez claimed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pet rats are fine to be in a home as long as they are handled safely.

Consumers are not supposed to put a rat in their face or share food with a rat, the Petco attorney said.

She said the plaintiff had not proven that there is a substantial risk of getting RBF by purchasing a pet rat and scoffed at the $20 million in damages suggested by Gomez, saying the plaintiff should not get even $1 million.

The Petco attorney said Andrew Pankey wasn't there for Aidan's birth and the father wasn't that involved in the child's life.

Barney's Pets, which supplied the rat in question to Petco, is also named as a defendant.

Jury deliberations were set to get underway in the courtroom of Judge Eddie Sturgeon.