PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium says the mother of a 2-year-old boy who was fatally mauled when he fell into a wild African dogs exhibit is to blame for her son's death and shouldn't be allowed to sue.
The zoo's attorneys made that argument in a response filed this week 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 Monday 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 parents' attorney, Robert Mongeluzzi, said the zoo "failed miserably in their solemn responsibility to prevent the attack" and has "now shamelessly attacked Maddox's grieving mother. We look forward to exposing their reckless conduct, in discovery, and at trial."
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. investigated the boy's death and deemed it a "tragic accident," deciding not to prosecute his mother or zoo officials on endangerment or other charges.
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."