Families of individuals killed when a duck boat sank in southwest Missouri July 19th are objecting to efforts of federal prosecutors to freeze their lawsuits.
The Kansas City Star reports attorneys for some of the victims filed documents in federal court last week, saying the suits were brought to get answers to what happened and to ensure it does not happen to someone else’s family.
The document says efforts of the United States Attorney to delay closure for the victims will only prolong their suffering.
Kansas City attorney Gerald McGonagle represents three daughters of a Higginsville couple who died in the tragedy. The Star reports that McGonagle said the delay “keeps these wounds open” and doesn’t allow the families to move on.
Federal prosecutors filed court documents August 29th in Kansas City seeking an order to delay any discovery in the lawsuits until a criminal investigation is over. It further seeks to prevent attorneys in those suits from sharing information and evidence they’ve gathered, stating that such activity could harm the criminal case.
The Coast Guard referred the investigation to federal prosecutors on Aug. 13. No criminal charges have been filed resulting from the Duck Boat mishap that killed 17 people on Table Rock Lake near Branson.
At least four lawsuits have been filed, three in federal court in Kansas City. Two of those are from members of the Coleman family of Indianapolis, which lost nine relatives in the mishap. One is seeking $100 million in damages.
A third federal case was filed by the daughter of 69-year-old William Asher from the St. Louis area, who died in last month’s tragedy. The fourth is from the daughters of William and Janice Bright who are being represented by McGonagle.
U.S. Attorney Timothy Garrison had argued in the federal prosecutors’ filing that much of the same evidence, documents, and witnesses in the civil suits will be part of the criminal investigation and lawsuits.
Springfield based defense attorney Adam Woody told Missourinet media partner KOLR-TV that court efforts to freeze the lawsuits are intended to allow federal investigators to operate without interference.
“They are just wanting to ensure that their witnesses or officers or investigating agencies are the first to question these witnesses, to get these witnesses statements under oath, and to ensure that they are reliable and consistent throughout the investigation,” said Woody.
Ripley Entertainment, the owner and operator of Ride the Ducks Branson, is named as a possible “target” or “subject” in the federal court document. Ripley is also a defendant in all the civil lawsuit. Woody thinks Ripley will attempt to use the possible federal intervention to try and shut down the litigation.
“Obviously the defense in the civil case is going to want this evidence as soon as possible. And if the government tries to stay the case, I would expect the defense to try and have the cases dismissed by the court.”
Woody thinks the whole process could last for years. Ripley Entertainment and the five other defendants named various lawsuits have continually declined to comment on the ongoing investigation, except to say they’re cooperating with authorities.
Meanwhile, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley filed a lawsuit in late August with the intent of shutting down the Branson duck boat operation.
Lawyers for the owners of the Branson operation did respond to his court action, saying it’s “littered with factual inaccuracies and innuendo.” Three attorneys based in Springfield and Kansas City are seeking to have Hawley’s lawsuit dismissed. They argue Hawley’s claims are too inconsistent.
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