A Pittsburgh Zoo safety committee had concerns about a wild African dogs exhibit but the zoo didn't make any changes before a 2-year-old boy fell into the pen last year and was mauled to death by the animals, lawyers for the boy's parents say in court filings that cite committee meeting minutes.
Maddox Derkosh fell Nov. 4 from an open viewing area into the exhibit, and his parents later sued the zoo, which then countersued, claiming the boy's mother is to blame for her son's death and shouldn't be allowed to sue.
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Jason and Elizabeth Derkosh acknowledged in their complaint that Elizabeth Derkosh lifted her son so he could get a better look at the exhibit, but they claim the zoo didn't modify the exhibit after the safety committee raised concerns.
Lawyers for the couple filed documents with the court this week, citing minutes from safety committee meetings that they say showed concern as far back as 2006.
According to the filings, minutes from an August 2006 meeting of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium safety committee mentioned that the "wild dog exhibit has one side of the exhibit that is open"; minutes from a February 2007 meeting noted that "a pane of Plexiglas may have to be installed" to cover the open area where visitors look down on the exhibit about 12 feet below; and minutes from a May 2007 meeting said that "guests are dangling children over the rail at the wild dog exhibit."
Zoo officials have said the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspected the exhibit 35 times since it opened in 2006, but did not raise concerns about the enclosure.
Also, zoo spokeswoman Tracy Gray said Wednesday the zoo has an active safety committee and "after careful inspection it was determined that the exhibit continuously exceeded the safety requirements mandated by the USDA" and other groups.
After his mother lifted him up, the boy lurched forward and fell onto a mesh net and bounced to the ground, where the dogs attacked him. Zookeepers rushed to save him, but it was too dangerous for them to enter the yard.
An autopsy said Maddox survived the fall but had no chance against the 11 dogs and bled to death. It was the first visitor death in the zoo's 116-year history.