DENVER (CN) - A boy got rat bite fever - a potentially fatal disease - from a "fancy rat" his parents bought him at a PetsMart in Colorado, the family claims in court.
Steiner Aiassa-Roberts and his parents sued PetsMart and its supplier, Rainbow World Exotics, in Federal Court.
They claim the pet store had ample evidence that the rat was sick, but sold it anyway. They say the pet store in Parker, near Denver, sold them two fancy rats that were visibly infected with rat bite fever.
"The rat originally sold to [the father] Robert and Steiner was ill and died," the complaint states. "This rat became aggressive and at the same time sneezed a lot as if it was ill. Robert was then given a substitute rat which was also ill and infected with rat bite fever. It displayed the same behavior as the first rat about one week after it was given as a substitute for the first rat. Upon information and belief this second rat came from the same batch or group of rats as the first.
"PetsMart and Rainbow knew or should have known that there were problems with the batch of rats from which the rats sold to Robert were originated from.
"The substitute rat given by PetsMart to Robert and Steiner was ill and bit and or scratched Steiner, causing him to contract rat bite fever."
The family claims the rats "were not inoculated carefully," but were subjected to a shoddy batch immunization.
"PetsMart knew and also should have known that batch immunization process is imperfect and there was a risk of selling rats to persons such as plaintiffs that were sick and/or infected with diseases including, but not limited to, rat bite fever," the complaint states.
Both defendants knew of the risks posed by sick rats: "At all times upon information and belief, PetsMart required its store employees who handled rodents to be inoculated against rat bite fever," the complaint states.
"PetsMart and Rainbow kept logs of inoculations and sicknesses and volume of batches of rodents and these records would have caused PetsMart and Rainbow to know that there was a significant risk of infection given the size of the batch of rats from which pets were sold to Robert and Steiner.
"Upon information and belief there were dead rodents in the viewing area during the time period in which rats were sold by PetsMart to Robert and Steiner."
The complaint adds: "Rainbow, upon information and belief, is known by members of the public including P.E.T.A. [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] to negligently and carelessly maintain the animals it sells to PetsMart and this fact is known to PetsMart at all times relevant including before the sale of the rat."
The PETA website, checked this morning, urges people not to buy pets from PetsMart because of its relationship with certain suppliers.
Rat bite fever is a serious illness that can be fatal if left untreated, though antibiotic treatment is "highly effective," according to the Centers for Disease Control. Humans who contract the disease develop flu-like symptoms and a rash.
The family claims that that Steiner "became seriously ill and suffered," and the family ran up medical bills.
"Upon information and belief the risk of infection after a rat bite of rat bite fever appears to be 10 percent and the mortality rate of untreated rat bite fever is approximately 13 percent," the complaint states.
The family seeks damages for product liability, breach of warranty and negligence.
They are represented by Keith Frankl.
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