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Pittsburgh Zoo: Boy's mauling death is mom's fault

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 04:53 a.m. HST, Sep 12, 2013

PITTSBURGH » The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium says the mother of a 2-year-old boy who was fatally mauled when he fell into a wild African dogs exhibit is to blame for her son's death and shouldn't be allowed to sue.

The zoo's attorneys made that argument in a response filed Monday to the wrongful-death lawsuit brought by Jason and Elizabeth Derkosh, whose son, Maddox, died Nov. 4 after falling over a 4-foot-tall wooden railing into the exhibit when his mother lifted him up to get a better look.

"The injuries and damages sustained by Maddox Derkosh, including Maddox Derkosh's death, were caused solely by the carelessness, negligence, and/or recklessness of Elizabeth Derkosh," the zoo's attorney wrote in the court filing. She "knew or should have known he could fall into the exhibit" and failed "to maintain a proper grasp of Maddox Derkosh after lifting him over the railing."

The parents' attorney, Robert Mongeluzzi, said in a statement Wednesday that "the zoo's position is dead wrong and shameful."

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. investigated the boy's death and deemed it a "tragic accident" in deciding not to prosecute his mother or zoo officials on endangerment or other charges.

But the standard of proof for criminal charges is greater than that needed to prove negligence or recklessness in a civil lawsuit, in which a jury could eventually decide that both sides share some responsibility.

"The fact that a horrible and tragic death of a child occurred at the zoo does not mean necessarily that the death was completely or even partially the zoo's fault," University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff said today. "The fact that the court of public opinion may have ruled already against the zoo is, and should be, irrelevant to the legal process."

Zappala determined the boy had vision problems and wore glasses, and that's partly why his mother lifted him to see down into the dogs' sunken enclosure.

Maddox became the only visitor in the zoo's 116-year history to die when he unexpectedly lunged out of his mother's grasp, over the wooden railing, and into a net meant to catch falling debris and trash. He bounced from the net into the dogs' enclosure about 10 feet below.

The animals immediately attacked the boy, who bled to death from massive injuries.

The zoo's 20-page response takes issue with claims that the exhibit wasn't safe, noting the 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."

Mongeluzzi has argued in the lawsuit that zoo officials were told by at least two employees that parents routinely lifted children onto the railing and, therefore, should have taken even more precautions.

Zoo spokeswoman Tracy Gray declined to comment on lawsuit but issued a statement saying the zoo has met safety standards of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and noting the U.S. Department of Agriculture found no problems with the exhibit in 35 inspections since 2006.

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

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mokebla wrote:
This is a tragic accident and to put blame on the park for negligence is out of order. Clearly it's the mothers fault knowing her son has vision problems and not having a good hold of him while standing on the railing. No parent in their right mind would let a two year old with bad vision stand freely on a railing. You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free, salah~
on September 12,2013 | 04:56AM
Mei mei wrote:
Agreed, the parent is grossly negligent... the nerve of this mother - shame on her!
on September 12,2013 | 11:49AM
kolohepalu wrote:
Another example of the lawyer-centric system we live. The automatic response to every accident is to sue, and there are always bottom-feeder lawyers there to encourage it, regardless of merit or truth.
on September 12,2013 | 07:27AM
kentfonoimoana wrote:
The zoo should counter sue the plaintiff and claim incurable stupidity on the part of the mother.
on September 12,2013 | 08:01AM
kalaoa wrote:
People were grossly upset at Michael Jackson....and his kid didn't fall out his grasp. She should get out of DENIAL and take the responsibility for her actions that led to the fall and death.
on September 12,2013 | 08:40AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
on September 12,2013 | 09:59AM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
This story reminds me of a local story where a person stood by a blow hole on the Big Island and fell to his death when a wave came crashing in. The plaintiffs claimed that there were no signs to warn them of the dangers. And what is mind boggling is that they won millions from the state.
on September 12,2013 | 09:58AM
lowtone123 wrote:
Stupidity pays
on September 12,2013 | 10:47AM
aomohoa wrote:
Every time I hike near any thing like that I see rails and signs and stupid people still climb over. I was on a farm about Rainbow Falls last week and a bunch of people climbed into the restricted area. They have flash floods that can take them away in a heart beat. So dumb!
on September 12,2013 | 10:51AM
lowtone123 wrote:
Someone once told me that common sense is not common. Otherwise everyone would have it.
on September 12,2013 | 10:48AM
Publicbraddah wrote:
We are slaves to uncommon sense.
on September 12,2013 | 10:54AM
Everybody has common sense-some just dont use it.
on September 12,2013 | 03:28PM
kailua000 wrote:
so very very sad, but the zoo was not negligent. will always be an attorney to file charges like this somewhere.
on September 12,2013 | 12:56PM
poidragon wrote:
Sounds like both parites are to blame for the accidental death of the boy! The mother chose to lift her son above the protective railing, thus putting him in harms way; the zoo is also responsible for patrons safety and were informed that parents were raising their children above the railing and should have had signs and zoo personnel there to avoid complications from occurring, but it still did and the boy is dead!
on September 12,2013 | 02:23PM
mokebla wrote:
Poidragon, you're just as dumb as the mother :-O!
on September 12,2013 | 03:22PM
on September 12,2013 | 03:29PM
ryan02 wrote:
Are cheetahs safer than wild dogs? I'm not sure why there as a need to replace the dogs with cheetahs, but whatever.
on September 12,2013 | 03:32PM
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