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.