Attorneys for the owner of a Duck Boat that sank, killing 17 people near Branson in July, have filed to have some federal lawsuits against it dismissed.
Attorney Terrance J. Good of the St. Louis law firm Lashly & Baer filed the motions Monday, which state that the claims don’t have standing due to duplicate filings of identical claims. The requests for dismissal were submitted against at least two of the lawsuits brought in the federal court’s Western District of Missouri, including one seeking $100 million in damages.
The motions were filed on behalf of Ripley’s Entertainment, which owns the Branson Duck Boat operation, and is one of six defendants named in most of the suits.
Ripley’s has remained largely silent outside of CEO Jim Pattison Jr.’s live phone interviews on national news shows the day after the vessel capsized during heavy winds when he stated that the boat should not have been on the water. The company has offered to pay expenses for parties impacted by the mishap.
In late August, federal prosecutors filed documents naming two duck boat captains as targets in a probe. The motion also sought to freeze the lawsuits while a criminal investigation is ongoing.
The Coast Guard referred the investigation to federal prosecutors on Aug. 13. No criminal charges have been filed.
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley also filed a motion in the same Missouri federal court Monday. His petition seeks to block the federal prosecutors’ efforts to delay the litigation.
Hawley brought a lawsuit against Ripley’s and Branson Duck Vehicles in August, arguing the companies violated the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act. That lawsuit was filed in state circuit court in southwest Missouri’s Taney County.
One of the motions to dismiss filed Monday was against a suit which seeks $100,000 in damages on behalf of members of the Coleman family handling the estates of two people who died in the accident, 76-year-old Ervin Coleman and two-year-old Maxwell Ly.
The Coleman’s lost nine relatives in the incident that occurred during a severe thunderstorm warnings July 19th on Table Rock Lake near Branson.
The motion stated that the U.S. Coast Guard found the duck boats to be in compliance of regulations.
“The facts show that Defendants had an impeccable safety record with vessels certified by the U.S. Coast Guard as in full compliance with applicable regulations. The Duck Boat “unfortunately suffered an unavoidable accident despite Ripley’s best efforts to keep everyone on board safe that evening,” said the motion.
The lawsuits claim the duck boat operators failed to adopt recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The agency made those recommendations after investigating another mishap in which 13 out of 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.
Numerous other deaths involving duck boats have occurred in the years since.
Two mishaps in Philadelphia took the lives of three people. In 2010, a barge pushed by a tugboat struck a duck boat stranded in the Delaware River after an engine fire. Two Hungarian tourists drowned when the vessel capsized. Then in 2015, a 68-year-old woman died while crossing a street in the city when she was struck by a duck boat.
Also in 2015, a duck boat in Seattle rammed into the side of a charter bus, killing four people and injuring several others on the bus.
There’s been no court decision yet on the request from federal prosecutors to freeze the lawsuits.
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