The terrible tragedy of 17 persons drowning while on a Missouri lake duck boat tour on July 19, 2018, continues to make news. As of this writing, two suits have been filed against Ripley Entertainment Inc., the duck boat tour’s owner, and other parties associated with the disaster.
By the time a thunderstorm had ended on Table Rock Lake near Branson, one woman had lost nine members of her family. One couple celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary died as well. And questions about why the boat even went out on the lake are being asked.
What Are Duck Boats?
Duck boats are amphibious vehicles that can travel on both land and water. They were first used during World War II to transport troops and goods. Many of the duck boats currently used are replicas of the old vessels. But their safety has been repeatedly called into question.
A Dubious Safety History
The Missouri deaths are far from the first ones associated with duck boats. In all, almost 40 people have died over the years because of duck boats. The fatalities include:
- 13 persons drowning when a duck boat sank near Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1999.
- Two persons dying when the disabled duck boat they were riding on was struck by a barge near Philadelphia, in 2010.
- One person dying on the streets of Philadelphia when a duck boat ran over them, in 2015.
- One person dying on the streets of Boston when a duck boat ran over them, in 2016.
On August 2, 2018, an injury-causing crash occurred when a duck boat loaded with passengers and a car collided in downtown Boston.
Two Multi-Million Dollar Suits
A $100 million suit on behalf of the estates of Ervin Coleman, 76, and Maxwell Coleman-Ly, 2, has been filed in Kansas City, Missouri. These two people belonged to the family that lost nine members. The legal team for the family has stated that it is their goal to have the boats banned, calling them “death traps” and “sinking coffins.”
Another suit, seeking $25 million in damages for the estates of a couple celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary, William and Janice Bright, was filed near Forsyth, Missouri. The suit claims that the National Weather Service issued storm warnings before the boat went out onto the lake, and that the defendants knew about the warnings, but that they chose to proceed in the interest of not losing profits.
Both suits allege wrongful death, negligence, and several other grounds for filing.
Warnings and Bad Design
One of the known problems with duck boats is the canopy usually installed on each one. The canopies prevent people from escaping when an emergency occurs, trapping them inside. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has previously issued warnings about the use of canopies on duck boats, notably after the 1999 Arkansas disaster that killed 13 people.
Concerning the Missouri cases, the owner of Test Drive Technologies in St. Louis, Steven Paul, said that he was hired by Ripley during August, 2017, to inspect 24 duck boats that the company planned to buy from Ride the Ducks International. Paul found design flaws with both the bilge pumps and the engine’s exhaust that made the boats likely to stall and unable to be restarted in bad weather.
The NTSB’s Preliminary Statement
The Missouri duck boat’s digital video recorder has been recovered by the NTSB. The Board released a statement on July 27, 2018, that noted a number of details regarding the recording, including the number of feeds and the variable sound quality. However, they stressed that they have yet to validate the recording and cannot yet publish an analysis of the video, stating, “As such, no conclusions regarding the cause of the accident should be made from this preliminary information.” The contents of the recorder have been sent to a Washington, D.C., laboratory for further examination.
Because of oddities in our laws regarding jurisdiction on water and on land, attorneys are discussing whether the cases are likely to succeed. Regardless of the outcomes, we think the time for using duck boats as entertainment has firmly passed.
Seeking truth. Securing justice.
Is your family enduring the grief caused by an accidental death that you believe was due to another person’s negligence? The reason to initiate a wrongful death suit can stem from a number of causes. Whatever the circumstances behind your claim, the personal injury lawyers at the Louthian Law Firm have represented South Carolinians in personal injury suits since 1959. We are committed to providing personalized service to you while aggressively pursuing your claim. We promise to work hard to protect your rights and obtain for you the best possible outcome. The deadline for filing a claim is already running, so call the Louthian Law Firm for help today. If you prefer, you can fill out our confidential online contact form.