Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a California product liability claim against a pet store company after a man’s son contracted a bacterial infection from a rat he purchased at the store. The 10-year-old kept his rat in a vivarium at his grandmother’s house, but he occasionally held the animals outside the cage. About two weeks after the purchase, the young boy developed a fever and collapsed. Tragically, he passed away at the hospital shortly after he arrived. An analysis of his blood and tissue samples revealed that the rat carried the bacteria that caused the boy’s infection.
After his son’s death, the plaintiff alleged, among other claims, that the pet store was strictly liable for injuries that stemmed from the sale of the pet rat. The trial court issued a jury instruction under an ordinary negligence theory based on failure to warn, manufacturing defects, and design defects. However, on appeal, the plaintiff contended that the jury should have received a consumer expectations test warning instruction.
In analyzing the case, the court explained that California products liability law applies in situations where the defendant supplies goods or products for the use of others. These defendants are liable to losses that purchasers, users, or bystanders suffer because of the product’s defects. Although California law does not address whether animals are a product for strict liability purposes, courts generally rely on supplemental guidance, which explains that pets carrying bacteria are not subject to design defect claims.