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Petco sued over California boy's rat-bite fever death

Many Los Angeles residents would argue pets are not property or products but, in fact, many laws categorize animals that way. Companies who sell pets are as responsible for product deficiencies as much as businesses that manufacture inanimate objects. Defective products that harm or kill consumers can be the product maker or seller's fault.

A California boy wished for a pet rat. The 10-year-old was hoping for a male rat so the female rat he already owned could have a spouse. Last May, the child's grandmother granted his wish by purchasing the "groom" at a San Diego Petco.

On the night of June 11, the boy became violently ill. He woke up suffering from acute stomach pains and fever. The boy, pale and weak, was immediately taken to a hospital, where he died within hours.

The boy's parents were shocked to learn their son had died of a bacterial infection known as rat-bite fever. Antibiotics are used successfully to treat streptobacillus moniliformis infection and fatalities are rare. Iowa University's Center for Food Security and Public Health recorded just 200 cases of rat-bite fever since 2004.

The disease is not contagious among humans, but it can be transmitted to humans from infected rodents through scratches or bites. The bacteria also may be passed along through food or drink products. The boy's pet rat was sent to the Centers for Disease Control to be tested for infection.

The parents filed a lawsuit against Petco after receiving the undisclosed test results.The complaint said Petco was negligent. The store's failure to monitor the rat's health and insufficient warnings were blamed for the boy's death and, subsequently, the parents' financial and emotional losses.

Products may be flawed in design, manufacturing or during any process before reaching consumers. Instructions and safety warnings are sometimes the only guides consumers have for use. Courts will order manufacturers to pay damages for making dangerous products.

Source: Star Tribune, "California family says Petco lawsuit is push for awareness after boy's death from infected rat" Julie Watson, Associated Press, Feb. 26, 201 

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