Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Allegheny County zoo death case ends with settlement

Pennsylvania civil courts may find fault with one or more defendants for a plaintiff's injury or death. The blame may be divided unequally, with one defendant responsible for a greater portion of liability than another. In some instances, a plaintiff shares responsibility with a defendant.

An Allegheny County premises liability lawsuit recently settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. The case against the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium alleged a little boy fell to his death in 2012, because the defendant maintained an unsafe premises. The toddler wiggled out of his mother's arms as she held him up to see an exhibit.

A pack of African wild dogs was enclosed below a visitors' observation deck surrounded by a wooden railing. The boy slipped from his mother's grasp. The child fell to the ground below, where he was attacked by the dogs and killed.

The boy's parents filed a legal claim last year, alleging the zoo inadequately protected the public. The zoo responded by saying the mother was negligent, because she knew holding her child above the barrier created a risk. The parents' attorney was prepared to offer evidence zoo officials were aware the wild dog visitor overlook was unsafe but took no action to secure it until after the boy died.

The plaintiffs obtained minutes from Pittsburgh Zoo safety committee meetings, with excerpts stating the committee had several reports of "child dangling" over the exhibit long before the fatal accident. Federal zoo safety regulators inspected the facility 35 times since 2006 and found no safety violations. After the child's death, the zoo removed the wild dogs and placed cheetahs in the exhibit.

The circumstances surrounding the painful loss of a loved one can prove defendant liability but reliving the details of a death at trial can be difficult for plaintiffs. Attorneys understand the acceptance of a settlement is often more than a monetary decision.

Source: ABC News, "Parents Settle Pittsburgh Zoo Lawsuit in Mauling" Joe Mandak, The Associated Press, Jun. 02, 2014

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