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Child's senseless death at Pittsburgh zoo stuns nation

Recently, a toddler was killed while on a trip to the Pittsburgh Zoo. People from across the country empathized with the pain and suffering the mother of the 2-year-old is experiencing. However, observers and the public have wondered whether the parents would pursue a premises liability claim with wrongful death litigation. Was the zoo a negligent property owner or was the child's death a fluke?

The incident occurred on a Sunday on a viewing deck above an exhibit that contained endangered African Painted Dogs. The glassed-in deck gave visitors a wide view of the enclosure. At the end of the deck was an opening protected by a railing about four-feet high.

The boy's mother placed the toddler on the railing to see the animals. According to zoo officials, the boy toppled from the railing and onto a safety net below. The child bounced two times in the netting before falling into the dog enclosure.

The animals, which weighed up to 80 pounds, immediately and violently attacked the boy. Zoo employees rushed to the area but were too late to save the child's life. The Allegheny County medical examiner announced the next day that the boy had survived the fall but not the dogs' attack.

The Pittsburgh Zoo was immediately closed. Reports did not say whether visitors would have access to the same deck where the boy fell to his death when the zoo reopened later in the week. Zoo authorities have not commented on plans for additional precautions to ensure visitors' safety.

Parents of a child who dies as a result of a property owner's negligence have the right to be compensated for their losses. A jury can decide to award compensation for the extreme emotional anguish and loss of companionship the parents suffered. A civil lawsuit might also result in the reimbursement of expenses associated with a child's death.

Source:, "Zoo: Wild dogs killed boy, 2, who fell in exhibit," Joe Mandak, Nov. 5, 2012

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