Parents sue Pittsburgh Zoo over toddler's mauling death

PITTSBURGH Thu May 23, 2013 5:57pm EDT

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PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - The parents of a 2-year-old boy mauled to death by African wild dogs at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium filed a lawsuit on Thursday accusing the zoo of failing to protect visitors from dangerous conditions.

Maddox Derkosh was fatally mauled on November 4, 2012 at the zoo's now-closed African dogs exhibit when he was lifted by his mother onto a railing to get a better view and fell.

The lawsuit filed by Jason and Elizabeth Derkosh claims zoo officials had ample warning that parents lifted their children onto the railing overlooking the exhibit but did nothing to protect them.

The suit, accusing the zoo and the Zoological Society of Pittsburgh of wrongful death and negligence, seeks a minimum of $300,000 in damages.

The zoo should have known how to protect its visitors from the killer dogs when "human prey" suddenly appeared in their territory, attorney Robert Mongeluzzi said in a statement on behalf of the parents.

"Any chance of survival was diminished by the Zoo's abysmal emergency response plan, which included blank and useless tranquilizer darts," he said.

A spokeswoman said the zoo could not comment on a pending legal case.

The suit claims negligence in management of the African wild dogs exhibit, which had an observation deck with an open, unprotected window overlooking the area where the dogs roamed.

Zoo officials knew parents routinely would lift their children onto the wooden railing in the open window, according to the lawsuit.

The mauling occurred after Elizabeth Derkosh lifted her only child up to the window for a better look at the dogs, and he lurched forward and fell into the enclosed area.

She tried to climb into the exhibit to save him but was restrained by another visitor.

"She watched helplessly as the African wild dogs savagely mauled and literally tore apart her son in front of her," the lawsuit said.

The child's organs were eviscerated and he suffered more than 46 wounds to his head and neck, it said.

"Elizabeth and Jason are loving parents. They still mourn. They still hurt and will hurt the rest of their lives," Mongeluzzi said in the statement.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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Comments (9)
DC4Teggy wrote:
This is truly horrible…don’t get me wrong. But the biggest fail here is the mother who lifted her child onto a railing and then dropped him. Accidental or not, the railing is there to keep you back, not to hold your kid over. Common sense is what is lacking in this world anymore.

May 23, 2013 8:43pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
michele13 wrote:
I love the statement about the facility “The zoo should have known how to protect its visitors from the killer dogs when “human prey” suddenly appeared in their territory” These are WILD animals…how the F do they think the WILD animal will act? Second thought here…humans are NOT supposed to be introduced to their territory. What did this mother think…that this was a freaking petting zoo? And the crew responded the best they could under the circumstances. Who would ever be ready for that situation? These keepers would never think someone would actually place their child in a position that they may fall in.
Thanks lady for ruining this zoo for all the other children because you are greedy and YOU made a mistake by putting your child on the railing. The zoo shouldn’t have to babysit you or anybody else and I don’t fault them one bit. If someone decides to jump into the tiger enclosure and the tiger bites them would it be the zoos fault?? You are paying to go into a facility with wild animals and should act accordingly. It is not a zoo’s responsibility to check peoples common sense at the gate! I remember when this happened and I thought she told people that she put the child on the railing and then turned for a moment, now that’s changed. The thing is…he shouldn’t have been placed there at all. If my child couldn’t see over the fence I would have held the kid in my arms and let him look. Plus the kid was two..they have the attention span of a bug…you think he wanted to see those dogs that bad? nah….I hope they throw this out of court.

May 23, 2013 10:35pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Netrimos wrote:
I agree that this was a horrible situation. But I can’t imagine a city being liable for the same situation on a bridge or raised walkway over a river or road.

May 24, 2013 7:56am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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