Family Sues Pittsburgh Zoo for Boy Torn to Death by Wild Dogs

PITTSBURGH (CN) – A pack of African wild dogs at the Pittsburgh Zoo killed a 2-year-old toddler while his mother helplessly watched, the family claims in court.

Maddox Derkosh slipped through his mother’s fingers, fell through an exhibit-viewing window last November and was mauled to death by the wild dogs, his parents claim in Allegheny County Court.
They claim the zoo provided inadequate railings and insufficient netting.
Elizabeth and Jason Derkosh sued the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and the Zoological Society of Pittsburgh for the wrongful death of their son, strict liability and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
In addition to the defective railing and net, the Derkoshes claim the zoo “armed its employees with unloaded and/or blank tranquilizer guns,” had “non-functioning tranquilizer darts” and failed to heed safety warnings from its own employee.
The complaint states: “African wild dogs are among the most ferocious predators in the wild and are widely considered the most efficient killers in the African plains, living in the wild on a diet of antelope, zebra, wildebeest, and other many times their size (typically 37-80 pounds.)”
Within 20 minutes of falling into the exhibit, Maddox suffered “more than 220 total injuries resulting in extensive trauma to his head, neck trunk and extremities,” his parents say in the complaint.
“At the time of Maddox’s fall … the railings and guards at the African wild dog exhibit were in a defective and dangerous condition, as they were too low and insufficient to prevent Maddox, or any other visitor, from falling,” the complaint states. ” … (T)he protection devices, guards, rails and/or the intended safety netting immediately below the opening were insufficient, defective and inadequate to prevent falls into this exhibit.”
Before Maddox died, zoo employee Lou Nene warned the zoo that he “personally observed mothers lift their children to see through the unguarded viewing area or place, then on the inadequately protected railing of the viewing window in the African wild dog exhibit ‘every day,'” the parents say in the complaint.
“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 ten’ times a day,” the complaint states.
It continues: “Lou Nene told his boss, Mr. Frank Pizzi, Curator of Horticulture at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium of his observations and his fears and concerns that a child could fall into the African wild dog exhibit and was told, ‘This is not your concern, go back to work.’
“The zoo defendants blatantly ignored a warning from their employee regarding the safety inadequacies of the African wild dog exhibit and the direct safety threat the African wild dog exhibit presented to children visiting the Zoo.”
On the morning of Nov. 4, 2012, Maddox and his mom were attending a “Zoo School” conservation education class for children held at and run by the Pittsburgh Zoo. After class, they walked through the zoo to see several exhibits, including the Painted Dog Bush Camp Exhibit, which housed 11 African wild dogs.
The exhibit “simulates the zoo’s actual Bush Camp joint research site in Zimbabwe, Africa … for the purpose of exhibiting to visitors this endangered species of animals.”
The visitor observation structure is “a covered deck that is elevated above the ground where a pack of African wild dogs roam unrestrained and unsupervised,” according to the complaint.
Several photos in the 39-page complaint illustrate the exhibit, including a picture of the “discolored, dirty plastic” railing that ran along the interior perimeter of the structure. See-through wire mesh ran along all areas above the railing except for one unprotected window.
The “only unprotected, open area of the exhibit is the center viewing area,” the complaint states.
“Directly below the unprotected area is a narrow cantilevered netting structure. No other protective devices, barriers, or structural components are in place to prevent an individual from falling over the railing into the habitat portion of the exhibit below.”
As Elizabeth lifted and held Maddox to get a better view, “he lurched forward and slipped out of her grasp and fell through the unprotected opening and into netting below,” the complaint states.
“When Maddox’s body hit the netting, he bounced out of the inadequate netting structure and plunged into the African wild dog habitat just a few feet below.”
Witnesses said Elizabeth never let go of Maddox, and that when Maddox landed he was “conscious, alert and aware of his surroundings,” according to the complaint.
The pack of wild dogs then “approached and launched a ferocious attack, biting, ripping and mauling Maddox.”
Elizabeth tried to climb into the exhibit through the open window, but was physically restrained by another visitor.
“She was forced to watch helplessly as the African wild dogs savagely mauled and literally tore apart her son in front of her,” the complaint states.
Maddox’s injuries included “having his body mauled and torn apart by a pack of wild dogs, evisceration of his organs of the chest, abdomen and pelvis; bilateral rib fractures; more than forty-six (46) wounds to his head and neck; two patterned puncture wounds to the left side of the head; multiple subgaleal hemorrhages; three abrasions and contusions of the neck; two lacerations of the neck; extensive defects of skin, subcutaneous tissue, muscles, organs and surrounding tissues extending down to bone and the axial skeleton; more than sixty-six (66) abrasions and contusions of the trunk; more than seventeen (17) lacerations of the trunk; two patterned puncture wounds on the left upper chest; extensive defects of the skin, subcutaneous tissue and muscles of the left posterior thigh and right proximal thigh extending to bone; more than fifty-eight (58) wounds on the bilateral upper and lower extremities; more than seven lacerations on the right leg; a puncture wound on the right posterior thigh; and countless other traumatic injuries as a result of the attack and mauling by African wild dogs.”
The complaint cites 20 other zoos, with photos of safe exhibits.
The family seeks punitive damages.
They are represented by Robert Mongeluzzi with Saltz, Mongeluzzi & Bendesky of Philadelphia.

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