Whitehall Couple Sues Pittsburgh Zoo Over Son’s Mauling by Painted Dogs

The parents of the toddler killed last fall at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium are suing the zoo, arguing zoo officials ignored known concerns about safety.

An attorney for Elizabeth and Jason Derkosh of Whitehall filed the 41-page civil lawsuit Thursday morning in Allegheny County Court, six months after the zoo’s African painted dogs fatally mauled their son Maddox, 2. The litigation seeks damages of more than $300,000, listing claims of negligence and wrongful death.

The zoo knew or should have known how to protect its visitors from the killer dogs, and the fatal consequences that would likely result when ‘human prey’ suddenly appeared in their territory. Any chance of survival was diminished by the zoo’s abysmal emergency-response plan, which included blank and useless tranquilizer darts.

Derkosh family attorney Robert J. Mongeluzzi said in a prepared statement

The Tribune-Review is seeking a response from the zoo, which has closed the exhibit. CEO Barbara Baker announced last month that the zoo was moving the dogs to other zoos.

The dogs attacked Maddox on Nov. 4 after Elizabeth Derkosh lifted him onto a railing where he could get a better view. He toppled 14 feet onto a mesh net, then bounced into the dogs’ pen.

Maddox survived the fall but bled to death from the mauling, an autopsy found. He was the first visitor to die in the zoo’s 114-year history.

His death sparked several reviews, including by District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. He has said that neither the zoo nor Elizabeth Derkosh will face criminal charges.

Separately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in November it would look for violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which governs the treatment of animals in public exhibits. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a nonprofit accrediting organization, also planned to look into the matter.

Neither the USDA nor the zoo association has announced results of their reviews.

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