The parents of a 2-year-old boy who was savagely attacked and killed when he fell into the wild African dog enclosure at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium in November of 2012, are suing the zoo for negligence in the death of their son. The boy, Maddox Derkosh, is the only visitor ever to die in an exhibit in the 116 year history of the zoo. Their attorney says that Jason and Elizabeth Derkosh remain devastated by the death of their only child.
According to the Associated Press, Elizabeth Derkosh was restrained by another zoo visitor from jumping into the enclosure to rescue Maddox, and “was forced to watch helplessly as the African wild dogs savagely mauled and literally tore apart her son in front of her.”
The pain and sorrow these parents must be suffering is beyond imagination. They have received great support from people in the Pittsburgh community. But, as their attorney notes, they will continue to hurt because of this incident for the rest of their lives. Wherever their story is told, the hearts of people who hear of their devastating loss will go out to this mother and father.
Are the parents right to sue?
But are Jason and Elizabeth Derkosh doing the right thing by suing the Pittsburgh Zoo? Or are they attempting to evade their own responsibility for the tragedy that happened to their son?
Maddox Derkosh fell into the wild dog pen because his mother had lifted him to the top of the enclosure’s wooden railing so he could get a better view of the dogs. According to the AP, the boy lunged out of his mother’s grasp, bounced off a debris net, and fell into the enclosure. This terrible incident happened because the child’s mother put a wriggly two-year-old in a precarious position, and then failed to hold him securely. Is that the zoo’s fault?
The Derkoshes claim that the zoo had been warned by an employee that parents often lifted their children up to see the animals, exactly as Elizabeth Derkosh did with Maddox. They contend that the zoo is at fault because it failed to take further precautions, as some other zoos have done, to prevent parents from being able to put their children at risk in this way.
Certainly it would have been best if the zoo had designed the exhibit so that there was no way visitors could get into the enclosure. But can society really mandate that every institution pay the price to put in the level of safeguards required to make it impossible for people to do things that they themselves should be able to see are dangerous and unwise?
The parents must take responsibility for their own actions
Jason and Elizabeth Derkosh lost their child in what is probably the worst way imaginable — having to helplessly watch as he was dismembered by savage animals. Their story cannot fail to call forth the deepest sympathy from anyone who hears it. But that sympathy should not obscure the fact that Maddox Derkosh died because his mother failed to act responsibly to keep him safe. Suing the Pittsburgh Zoo won’t change that.