2013-07-11 / Local & State

Pa. Zoo Responds To Lawsuit Over Boy’s Death

PITTSBURGH (AP) – A zoo in western Pennsylvania is seeking dismissal of portions of a lawsuit filed by the family of a 2-year-old boy who was mauled to death after falling into an exhibit of wild African dogs last fall.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Jason and Elizabeth Derkosh against the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium seeks unspecified damages in the Nov. 4 death of their son, Maddox. The boy fell from a wooden railing after his mother lifted him up to get a better look at the painted dogs.

Defense attorneys maintain that the zoo shouldn’t be held negligent or liable and ask the judge to dismiss the family’s claim for punitive damages, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported. Attorneys said zoos provide “great community value’’ and that there is generally little danger in viewing animals.

“Exhibiting wild animals at a public, nationally accredited, and federally licensed zoo – like the Pittsburgh Zoo – does not create an abnormal or unusual risk,’’ they said.

The boy, who wore glasses, became the only visitor in the zoo’s 116-year history to die when he unexpectedly lunged out of his mother’s grasp atop the wooden railing and into a net meant to catch falling debris and trash, bouncing from it and down into the dogs’ enclosure about 10 feet below.

The lawsuit filed in Allegheny County says Elizabeth Derkosh tried to climb into the exhibit after her son but was restrained by another zoo visitor, so she was “forced to watch helplessly as the African wild dogs savagely mauled and literally tore apart her son in front of her.’’

The lawsuit argues that officials had ample warning that parents routinely lifted children onto a rail overlooking the exhibit so they could get a better view. Zoo attorneys, however, said the lawsuit fails to show that the zoo knew of the risks or that it violated any safety standards.

After the boy’s death, the Pittsburgh zoo closed the observation deck and eventually decided to move the 10 dogs to three other American zoos. One of the 11 animals in the exhibit when the boy was mauled was killed by crews attempting to rescue the boy.

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