Attorneys for family members who lost relatives in the Duck Boat mishap on Table Rock Lake near Branson have filed a $100 million lawsuit in federal court in Kansas City.
Family members handling the estates of two people who died in the accident, 76-year-old Ervin Coleman and two-year-old Maxwell Ly are suing Ride the Ducks Branson along with its owner Ripley Entertainment and previous owner Herschend Family Entertainment.
The 43-page filing enters nine counts against the defendants, including two counts each of Negligence, Wrongful Death and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress as well as one count each of Product Liability, Outrageous Conduct and Violation of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.
Seventeen out of 31 passengers died when the Ride the Ducks vehicle Stretch Duck 07 sank when it encountered four-foot waves during hurricane force winds July 19th.
The suit was filed by attorney Gregory W. Aleshire of Springfield along with Robert J. Mongeluzzi, Andrew Duffy and Jeffrey Goodman of the Philadelphia law firm Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky. The Philadelphia based lawyers have extensive experience litigating Duck Boat mishaps.
Duffy secured a $17 million settlement for victims in a Duck Boat incident on the Delaware River in Philadelphia in 2010. The families of Hungarian tourists Dora Schwendter and Szabolcs Prem split $15 million, and nearly 20 other victims who involved in the accident split $2 million.
The lawsuit filed Sunday with the U.S. Court Western District of Missouri in Kansas City says the defendants had been told that design flaws in the Duck Boats made them more susceptible to sinking. It contends that despite being aware of impending severe weather conditions, Ripley intentionally decided to take the Duck Boat out onto Table Rock Lake instead of canceling the tour and refunding the patrons’ money.
The suit states that the defendants had been repeatedly told over two decades to change the design of their Duck Boats to make them safer, but they entirely ignored these warnings.
It further states prior to purchasing the Branson operations, Ripley hired an inspector, Steven Paul, who warned the Duck Boats’ engines and the bilge pumps that remove water from their hulls might fail in bad weather due to the improper placement of the boats’ exhaust system.
The court document said Mr. Paul told the defendants that “in rough conditions, water could get into the exhaust system, and then into the motor, cutting it off”, which were the exact conditions faced by Stretch Duck 07.
It also included several photos of Stretch Duck 07 moments before it went under water and a chart illustrating seven incidents that have led to 43 duck boat deaths since 1999.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a report in 2002 on the Miss Majestic duck boat that sank on Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1999, killing 13 out of 21 passengers. It blamed the death toll on the vehicle’s lack of adequate buoyancy that would have allowed it to remain afloat in a flooded condition, as well as a shortage of adequate oversight by the Coast Guard, and a canopy roof that tends to entrap passengers.
Since then, four people were killed in a 2002 Duck Boat incident in Ontario, California, followed by the two passengers in Philadelphia in 2010, five in Seattle and one in Philadelphia in 2015 and one in Boston in 2016 before this month’s Branson tragedy.
The lawsuit is likely the first of numerous legal filings to come against Ride the Ducks Branson.