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Report: Zoo Attorneys Say Mother Was At Fault For Son’s Mauling Death

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(Photo Credit: KDKA)

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) — Attorneys for the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium are blaming the mother of the child who was mauled to death by a pack of African Painted dogs — an saying she 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 boy fell from the railing and into the exhibit where he was killed.

The Derkosh family is suing the zoo for wrongful death.

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium has issued this statement: “The motions filed by attorneys representing the Pittsburgh Zoo are the next steps in the legal process. Our attorneys have supplied the court with written responses and our position to the claims filed. We are unable to comment further, pending litigation.”

The Derkosh family’s lawsuit claims that zoo officials were aware that parents routinely lifted children onto the railing, and should have made changes.

Lawyers for the Derkosh family have issued this statement in response to the paperwork filed Wednesday: “Maddox Derkosh was fatally attacked and killed at the Pittsburgh Zoo. The Zoo, in its court filing, attacked Maddox’s grieving mother although the Zoo had been warned by several of its own employees of the very tragedy that would take Maddox’s life, ignored the warnings, and told at least one of those employees, that ‘this is not your concern, go back to work.’ On behalf of the Derkosh family, we look forward to proving, in discovery and at trial, that the Zoo’s position is dead wrong and shameful.”
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 Thursday. “The fact that the court of public opinion may have ruled already against the zoo is, and should be, irrelevant to the legal process.”

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

RELATED LINKS:
Parents Sue Pittsburgh Zoo Over Mauling Death (5/23/13)
More reports on this case

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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