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Judge refuses to drop 2 claims against the Pittsburgh Zoo in lawsuit over boy's mauling death

| Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013, 2:39 p.m.
Submitted
Maddox Derkosh, 2, of Whitehall was killed Nov. 4, 2012, when he fell into the African painted dogs exhibit at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.
Elizabeth Derkosh, 33, of Whitehall, was holding her 2-year old son, Maddox, when he fell from the viewing platform into the African painted dog exhibit and was mauled to death at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium on Nov. 4, 2012.

An attorney for the parents of a young boy who died at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium said he soon will ask the zoo for documents and begin deposing zoo employees to press the family's lawsuit.

Philadelphia attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, representing Elizabeth and Jason Derkosh of Whitehall, said he wants to depose employees to “ask them questions of what they knew and when they knew it.”

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Paul F. Lutty Jr. ruled Tuesday that their lawsuit can proceed almost entirely according to the complaint the Derkoshes filed nearly three months ago.

They sued on May 23 in the case of their son, Maddox, 2, who was mauled to death when he fell into an exhibit of African painted dogs on Nov. 4. They argue the zoo was negligent and should be held responsible for the harm done by the dogs.

Attorneys for the zoo wanted Lutty to strike two legal arguments from the lawsuit.

At the request of Daniel L. Rivetti, one of three Pittsburgh-based attorneys representing the zoo, Lutty agreed to remove from the complaint photographs depicting similar exhibits from zoos around the country. Rivetti argued their inclusion would be “highly prejudicial” because the evidence has not been properly authenticated or identified.

But the judge refused Rivetti's request to remove from the 41-page lawsuit the legal concepts of punitive damage and strict liability, two prongs that would hold the zoo accountable for Maddox's death.

Mongeluzzi said he considers Lutty's decision to allow the case to proceed as a “win,” adding that he will attempt to submit the photographs later.

Maddox slipped from his mother's grasp, tumbled into the dog exhibit and was mauled. Authorities did not file criminal charges, but attorneys for the Derkoshes said the zoo “blatantly ignored” a worker's warning about safety problems with the exhibit.

The zoo removed the observation deck from which Maddox fell and replaced it with a tall fence. The zoo moved the dogs to other zoos and in June reopened the exhibit with a cheetah on display.

Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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