Lawsuit Against Pet Store Claims General Negligence After Boy Allegedly Dies from Rat Bite

The family of a child who died of an infection possibly contracted from a rat bite has filed a lawsuit against the pet store that sold them the rat. The medical examiner ruled the cause of death to be a bacterial infection sometimes known as “rat-bite fever.” The lawsuit alleges general negligence, claiming that the pet store, part of the national chain Petco, failed to warn of the dangers associated with owning a rat as a pet. The plaintiffs are seeking both compensatory and punitive damages.

The ten year-old boy, who lived in San Diego, California, reportedly purchased the rat from a Petco store with his grandmother on May 27, 2013. He began experiencing severe pain at around midnight on June 11, including a fever and stomach pain. Paramedics took him to the hospital, but he died about an hour later. After conducting an autopsy, the medical examiner determined that he died of streptobacillus monliformis infection, or rat-bite fever.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people can contract this infection from infected rodents via a bite or scratch, or by ingesting food or water contaminated with the bacteria. Common symptoms include fever, chills, and joint pain or stiffness. The infection can be serious and even fatal, with a mortality rate of ten percent, if left untreated. A significant risk of delayed diagnosis exists because the initial symptoms are often nonspecific and the bacterium itself is reportedly difficult to culture. As rats become more popular as pets, some clinicians have expressed concern about increased risk of exposure.

The lawsuit, filed by the boy’s parents individually and on behalf of his estate in late February 2014, names Petco Animal Supplies, Inc. as the defendant. The company has faced legal challenges related to treatment of animals in its inventory. It agreed to a $1.75 million settlement in a consumer protection lawsuit filed by prosecutors in three northern California counties alleging, in part, that the company did not provide proper care for its animals. Animal welfare inspectors in those counties reportedly found that stores were keeping some sick animals on the sales floor, rather than separating them from the other animals and the public.

The plaintiffs in the San Diego lawsuit must prove the four elements of a negligence claim: a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiffs, a breach of the duty of care, a causal relationship between the breach and the injury, and actual damages resulting from the injury. They are alleging that the company owed a duty to warn of dangers involved in owning a rat as a pet, and breached that duty by failing to provide such a warning when it sold the boy the rat. The plaintiffs must also prove by a preponderance of evidence that the boy’s infection resulted from a bite or scratch from the rat. The company may try to argue that he could have contracted the infection elsewhere, including from contaminated food or water.

The personal injury attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen represent the rights of people in the Washington, DC area who have suffered injuries due to the illegal, tortious, or negligent conduct of others. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.

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