Attorneys representing parties suing operators of Duck Boats in Branson held a news conference Monday morning while another lawsuit over the same tragedy was filed.
Lawyers for the estate of two of nine members of the Coleman family of Indianapolis spoke in Kansas City where a lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Court for the Western District of Missouri.
Meanwhile, the Springfield News-Leader reports daughters of a Missouri couple killed in the tragedy filed a lawsuit. Monday, the three daughters of William and Janice Bright filed a wrongful death lawsuit in southwest Missouri’s Taney County against Ride the Ducks International, Ripley Entertainment, boat captain Kenneth McKee and deceased employee Robert Williams. According to the News-Leader, the couple was in Branson to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary when they died.
The complaint in federal court in Kansas City is a $100 million lawsuit. It 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.
They’re representing family members handling the estates of two people who died in the accident, 76-year-old Ervin Coleman and two-year-old Maxwell Ly. A total of 17 out of 31 people aboard the Duck Boat died when it sank while taking on four-foot waves in hurricane force winds July 17th.
Mongeluzzi said the family members brought the suit in order to find out what happened and to bring permanent change. “They have asked that this lawsuit lead the charge to ban Duck Boats so they no longer kill their passengers and the children who ride them,” said Mongeluzzi.
The attorney, who has been involved in previous litigation in Duck Boat incidents that killed people in Philadelphia, made frequent reference to a 2002 report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The agency investigated another mishap in which 13 out 21 aboard died when a Duck Boat went down on Lake Hamilton near Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1999. That report 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 when the boats sink.
Mongeluzzi spoke in a chilling tone as he noted theNTSB probe found that wearing life preservers makes the problem even worse because the buoyancy of the preservers further pinned passengers against the canopy. “You are dead if you do, you are dead if you don’t, Mongeluzzi said. “You’re drowned if you do, you’re drowned if you don’t. They put their passengers in an impossible situation where no matter what they do, they are likely to die if that Duck Boat sinks.”
The NTSB made recommendations that Duck Boat owners remove canopies for their vehicles, but no action was ever taken as the agency doesn’t have the power of law. The vehicles are also subject to inspection by the Coast Guard, but its scope of oversight is limited to compliance with requirements such as whether a vessel is equipped with enough life preservers.
Mongeluzzi mentioned his firm beat an 1851 maritime law in securing a $17 million settlement for victims in a Duck Boat incident on the Delaware River in Philadelphia in 2010.
The Limitation of Liability Act gives a vessel owner the right to limit its liability in a mishap. Ships at the time faced the difficult task of traveling around the world with limited communication capabilities. In the settlement from the 2010 tragedy, 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.
Mongeluzzi also brought up three occasions when Duck Boats had caused death on land.
He blamed the vehicles’ large bow that prevents the driver from viewing what’s in front of it for an incident in Philadelphia in which a woman was run over in 2015, and a collision with a scooter in 2016 in Boston where the scooter’s passenger died.
He also pointed out a steering linkage that broke down on a Duck Boat in Seattle in 2015 caused it to careen into the side of a chartered bus, killing five visiting exchange students on the bus.
During the news conference Monday, attorney Jeffrey Goodman said Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky had filed paperwork to represent the estates of three other members of the Coleman family who were killed in the Branson accident, confirming it had more lawsuits are on the way.
Goodman also added that some of the survivors were able to make their way to safety by tearing a hole in the canopy and swimming to the surface while other survivors simply found themselves outside the vessel after it became submerged and surfaced that way.
Mongeluzzi said the rate of Duck Boat deaths over the past 20 years is one for every five boats, which he compared to automobile statistics. If they had the same death per vehicle rate as Duck Boats, that would be 60 million people,” said Mongeluzzi. “60 million people would have been killed in the last 20 years if cars were as dangerous as Duck Boats.”
Ripley Entertainment, which owns other attractions like Ripley’s Believe It or Not, bought the Branson Duck Boat operation from Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation last December. Ripley’s parent company, the Jim Pattison Group of Vancouver, Canada, is that country’s second largest privately owned company and has over $10.1 billion in sales.