Pittsburgh Zoo, Family Point Blame in Toddler’s Mauling Death

The family of a 2-year-old boy mauled by African wild dogs at Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium argued at the claims made Thursday in court filings by zoo officials this week that the mother’s negligence led to the boy’s fatal accident.

Maddox Derkosh was fatally mauled on November 4, 2012 at the zoo’s now-closed African wild dogs exhibit when he was allegedly lifted by his mother above a 4-foot-tall wooden railing to get a better view, lurched forward and fell.

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium argues that the horrific death of Maddox Derkosh was “caused solely by the carelessness, negligence and/or recklessness of Elizabeth Derkosh,” and the family should not be allowed to sue, according to a court filing Monday.

In its response filed earlier this week, the zoo denied claims that officials had ample warning that parents lifted their children onto an unprotected area overlooking the exhibit, and said the child’s death was due to Elizabeth Derkosh’s “negligence and recklessness.”

The zoo argued that while its employees had responsibility for visitors, it cannot “control all of the conduct of its patrons while they are on zoo premises.” It noted that visitors were “also responsible for their safety and had a duty to act in a reasonable and prudent manner.”

The zoo also said that the railing surrounding the enclosure was at least 42 inches high and complied with all applicable building and safety codes. It also denied claims made by the family that it had “out-of-date, non-functioning tranquilizer darts” before the accident.

The boy’s mother did admit to holding her son in her arms so he could get a better view of nearly a dozen painted dogs below them from an observation deck on November 4th.

Maddox became the only visitor in the zoo’s 116-year history to die when he unexpectedly “lurched forward” out of his mother’s arms, over the wooden railing and into a net meant to catch small items such as cell phones and sunglasses. He bounced from the net into the dogs’ enclosure, about 10 feet below, landing fully conscious on the exhibit’s floor.

The animals immediately savagely ripped the boy apart.  He bled to death from massive injuries, according to a complaint filed by the family in May.

In the zoo’s 20-page response about the exhibit being unsafe, it was noted that a wooden plank at the top of the railing was slanted 45 degrees toward the viewing platform “in order to keep visitors, including children, from sitting or standing on the railing.”

It was mentioned in the lawsuit that zoo officials were told by at least two employees that parents routinely lifted their children onto the railing and, therefore, they should have taken even more precautions.

“Lou Nene, in an interview broadcast November 28, 2012, on KDKA-TV, admitted that he would see mothers place their children above or on the inadequately protected railing and opening ‘at least 10’ times a day,” according to the complaint addressing the dogs’ observation deck.

The dogs have been relocated to other zoos and the exhibit now houses cheetahs.

The court battle continues.

What was meant to be a fun, happy day turned into a horrific tragedy for the Derkosh family. It is bad enough that the parents witnessed their only child being mauled to death before their very eyes, but now the mother is being blamed for Maddox’ death. If employees of the zoo gave warnings that some parents held their children in front of the animals, the zoo should have been put on notice to do more to prevent an incident such as this.

What do you think about this tragic story? Do you think that the zoo should be liable for Maddox’s death? Feel free to comment on this blog post.  You can contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878) for more information.

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