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10-year-old boy killed by disease from pet store rat

Some of our recent posts have focused on the hazards posed by dangerous and defective products. Every year, countless Americans are injured by products that are poorly designed or that have manufacturing defects. Product liability lawsuits are an important legal remedy in these cases.

But what if the dangerous “product” you purchased happens to be a live animal? This is one of the many questions facing grieving parents whose 10-year-old son died after being bitten by a diseased pet rat.

The California family has filed a lawsuit against Petco, the store that sold the rat. It had been purchased by the boy’s grandmother in late May of last year as a gift for him and to be a mate for the female rat he already owned.

A couple weeks later, the boy’s parents rushed him to the hospital. He was suffering from stomach problems, had a fever and had difficulty walking. By the next day, the 10-year-old had died. Recently, medical experts confirmed that his death was caused by a streptobacillus moniliformis infection, known more commonly as “rat-bite fever.”

The disease is transmitted from infected rodents to humans, but transmission isn’t just limited to being bitten. It can also be transmitted by handling an infected rodent or consuming food or beverages that have been contaminated by the bacteria.

What makes this case especially tragic is that it could have been easily prevented. The lawsuit alleges that Petco was negligent in its failure to adequately test the rat for disease prior to selling it. Rat-bite fever also tends to be very treatable with antibiotics, which is one reason why the disease is rarely fatal.

It is hard to imagine a family’s grief at losing their young son due to a disease transmitted by a small and inexpensive pet. Hopefully, the family will be adequately compensated and pet stores everywhere will improve disease screening in response to this case.

Source: CBS News, “Family sues Petco after boy dies from ‘rat-bite fever’,” Feb. 25, 2013

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