Lawyers arguing the wrongful death case involving the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium are due Tuesday morning in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court for a pre-trial motions hearing.
The zoo’s liability and the openness of court records have become central questions since the Nov. 4 death of Maddox Derkosh, 2, of Whitehall. He fell to his death in a zoo exhibit of African painted dogs, which have since been sent to other institutions.
Attorneys for his parents, Elizabeth and Jason Derkosh, have argued that the zoo was negligent and should be held responsible for the harm done by the dogs. They said photographs and other evidence contested by the zoo should remain in an unsealed court record under established practices.
“We believe the public has a right to know and that these proceedings should be open and transparent,” said Philadelphia-based attorney Robert J. Mongeluzzi, who is representing the Derkoshes.
He said that the hearing will amount to technical legal arguments and that the case will proceed regardless of its outcome. The zoo has sought a partial dismissal of the case.
Daniel L. Rivetti, one of three Pittsburgh-based attorneys representing the zoo, declined to comment. In previous court filings, they said earlier court decisions and standards limited liability in zoo cases.
Further, the zoo argues that some evidence introduced in the 41-page lawsuit the Derkoshes filed May 23 violates pleading standards under the state Rules of Civil Procedure. The inclusion of some evidence in public documents is “highly prejudicial because the evidence has not been properly authenticated or identified,” the zoo’s attorneys wrote in June.
Maddox slipped from his mother’s grasp, tumbled into the dog exhibit and was mauled. Authorities did not file criminal charges in the case, but attorneys for the Derkoshes said the zoo “blatantly ignored” a worker’s warning about safety at the exhibit.