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Jury sides with Petco after 10-year-old dies from rat-bite fever

(CBS NEWS) SAN DIEGO -- A San Diego jury has sided with Petco Animal Supplies in a lawsuit brought by the family of a 10-year-old boy who died after contracting an illness from a rat purchased from the pet retailer.

CBS affiliate KFMB-TV reports that on Thursday the jury found Petco was not negligent or liable in the death of Aidan Pankey on June 12, 2013, after he was rushed to a hospital with severe stomach pains.

The San Diego County medical examiner’s office ruled the cause of death was streptobacillus moniliformis infection, known as rat-bite fever, after exposure to an infected rat. Andrew Pankey, the boy’s father, then filed a lawsuit against Petco seeking $20 million in damages.

Pankey’s attorney, John H. Gomez, said in closing arguments Tuesday that Petco knows the rats it sells are likely to carry “rat-bite fever’’ and buries this information on a companion animal card, KFMB reported. Gomez said there was no way to predict if a consumer was going to get an infected rat from Petco.

Petco’s lawyer countered that the company does everything it can to prevent the disease and said there was no way to determine what percentage of rats have the disease. “They (Petco) warn about it because they know they can’t get rid of it,” attorney Kimberly Oberrecht told the jury. “It’s still very rare.”

The jury on Thursday found that Petco did enough to warn the boy’s family of the possible risks and dangers of owning a pet rat, and therefore was not negligent in the boy’s death.

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