Aidan Pankey was only 10 years old when his grandmother purchased a male rat for him from Petco in 2013 to fulfill his wish of keeping his female pet rat company and that the rats could “get married.” But the male rat bit Aidan, and he was soon rushed to the hospital with severe stomach pains. Hours later, the boy died of “streptobacillus moniliformis infection,” more commonly known as “rat bite fever” and it was later determined that the male rat had indeed been infected with the disease. After years of litigation, Aidan’s family will get to have its day in court against Petco after a California judge ruled that pet retailers such as Petco are “strictly liable” for injuries caused by pets they have sold and thus the family’s case could proceed to trial. This ruling may have an important effect on other California consumers who have been injured by pets sold by retailers.

Why “Strict Liability” Matters in Pet Sales

The concept of strict liability is applied in product liability suits in California, and it essentially states that, when a retailer sells a defective product, it is liable for any injuries that are caused by the defect in the product, regardless of whether the plaintiff can prove that the retailer knew about the defect or was otherwise negligent. The reasoning behind strict liability is that retailers and manufacturers are in a far better position to know whether a defect might exist and to take actions to prevent defects (e.g. by vetting distributors of products to make sure they are following proper safety procedures) than a consumer would be, thus it makes sense to put the liability for any injuries on the retailer and manufacturer (without requiring the plaintiff to prove negligence), and not the consumer.

While strict liability has long been applied to products such as appliances or vehicles, what makes this case remarkable is that the court ruled that a pet is indeed a product and thus subject to the same strict liability rules as other products. Petco had argued that a rat should not be considered a product due to it being a living being, but the court disagreed, finding that “rats are greatly distributed in commerce” and that, “Petco and suppliers of rats are in a better position to be able to inform of the risks of injury, and to possibly ensure their rats are free at the time of sale of (rat bite fever).”   

Note that in bringing a strict liability product lawsuit based on a pet sale, a plaintiff would need to prove that the “defect” (in this case, the infectious disease) was present at the time that the pet was in the control of the retailer or other party in the chain of distribution.

Contact an Inland Empire Product Liability Attorney Today

Whether you are seeking to bring an individual product liability suit for your injuries or are interested in joining a class of similarly injured plaintiffs, the product liability legal team at McCuneWright is waiting to hear from you. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with an experienced attorney to discuss your matter.