SAN DIEGO (AP) — The death of a 10-year-old San Diego boy from a bacterial infection he reportedly got from his pet rat prompted his family to sue retailer Petco, saying they want to raise awareness among parents.
Attorney John Gomez told The Associated Press on Tuesday that his firm filed the lawsuit Monday in San Diego County seeking an unspecified amount for the suffering endured by the Pankey family, whose son, Aidan, died June 12, 2013, hours after he was rushed to the hospital with severe stomach pains.
The San Diego County medical examiner's office ruled that the cause of death was streptobacillus moniliformis infection, commonly known as rat-bite fever, after exposure to an infected rat.
Gomez said the Pankey family was not giving interviews, but they are devastated by the death.
"It's a means to ensure this doesn't happen again," Gomez said of the lawsuit. "Apparently there was some breakdown in procedures. They want tighter controls."
According to the lawsuit, the rat appeared safe. But the lawsuit says Petco should have known about the rodent's health and did not adequately test for the disease. It also says that negligence led to the boy's death, which has caused his parents, Andrew Pankey and Vanessa Sauer, emotional and economic hardship, and that the retailer did not post adequate warnings about the potential risks, especially for children.
Petco Animal Supplies Inc. said it is "in the process of investigating these claims and will respond appropriately when we have more information."
Meanwhile, the retailer in a statement expressed its condolences.
"We are deeply saddened by the Pankey family's tragic loss," Petco said. "The health and safety of people and pets is always a top priority, and we take the family's concerns very seriously."
The boy's grandmother purchased the male rat, which Aidan named Alex, because her only grandson wanted a mate for his female rat, Gomez said. The boy took the rat home May 27, 2013, and woke up the night of June 11 in severe pain with a fever and stomach problems. He was pale, lethargic and could barely walk, according to the lawsuit. He died at 1:09 a.m. the next day.
"He was a bright, energetic, friendly, happy kid who actually had a prior rat, who was a female, and he had this idea in his young head of having his female rat get married," Gomez said.