Attorneys representing the family of two victims of this month’s deadly duck boat incident near Branson, Missouri have filed a wrongful death lawsuit, seeking $100 million in damages and alleging duck boat operators “recklessly risked the lives of its passengers for purely financial reasons.”
Seventeen people were killed on July 19 when a duck boat carrying 31 people sank during a storm on Table Rock Lake. The lawsuit was filed Sunday on behalf of 76-year-old Ervin Coleman and 2-year-old Maxwell Coleman Ly, two of the nine members of an Indiana family who died in the incident.
Duck boats, which are popular tourist attractions in several cities across the U.S., have raised safety concerns in the past — particularly because of the boats’ canopies, which have been found to be hazardous if they sink with passengers aboard.
“Since 2002 at the latest, the duck boat industry has known that canopies entrap people inside the duck boat if it sinks, and their odds of surviving aren’t good. But they never did anything to take them off,” attorney Robert Mongeluzzi said at a press conference on Monday. Mongeluzzi represented the families of the victims of a deadly 2010 duck boat accident in Philadelphia and has been calling for a ban on the amphibious vehicles ever since, describing them as “death traps.”
Attorneys for the Branson victims accused Ripley Entertainment Inc. — owner of Ride the Ducks Branson — of operating duck boats on July 19 “despite being aware of impending severe weather conditions” and ignoring previous warnings about duck boat safety, including a report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) about the 1999 sinking of the Miss Majestic duck boat on a lake in Arkansas. Thirteen people, including three children, died in that incident, and the NTSB concluded the the boat’s canopy was a “major impediment” to passenger survival.
The NTSB, which is still investigating the Branson incident, said Friday that video from the duck boat shows the crew was told to take the water portion of the tour first on July 19, and the captain referenced the weather radar before the trip began.
“It is clear that they knew severe weather was coming, and they tried to beat the storm by going on water first, rather than refunding the 40 bucks that each of these people paid, putting their lives at risk,” Mongeluzzi said at Monday’s press conference.
According to the lawsuit, in August 2017, an inspector warned Ride the Ducks — the previous owner of the Branson duck boats — that “the dangerous design of their Duck Boats put their vessels at risk of sinking.” But, the lawsuit alleges, the company did not change anything in response.
“This tragedy was the predictable and predicted result of decades of unacceptable, greed-driven, and willful ignorance of safety by the Duck Boat industry in the face of specific and repeated warnings that their Duck Boats are death traps for passengers and pose grave danger to the public on water and on land,” the lawsuit stated.
Ride the Ducks Branson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
“We remain deeply saddened by the tragic accident that occurred in Branson and we are supportive of the affected families. The investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board is still underway and no conclusions have been reached. We cannot comment at this time,” a spokesperson for Ripley Entertainment said in an email.