KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CN) – Family members of victims filed a $100 million federal lawsuit Sunday against the owners and operators of a defective duck boat that sank and dragged 17 people to their deaths at the bottom of a Missouri lake less than two weeks ago.
According to the complaint brought by lead attorney Gregory Aleshire of Aleshire Robb, not only did Ride the Ducks Branson tour boat owners ignore repeated storm warnings the day of the July 19 tragedy, they had refused to address design flaws which made the amphibious vehicle unsafe even in ideal conditions.
The lawsuit was filed Sunday in Kansas City, Missouri federal court on behalf of the estates of Ervin Coleman, 76, and Maxwell Ly, 2, two of nine members of an Indiana family who drowned in the choppy waters of Table Rock Lake.
Five of the 17 killed were children and 14 other passengers were injured, authorities said.
The boat was designed and manufactured by defendants Ripley Entertainment Inc.; Ride the Ducks International LLC; Ride the Ducks of Branson LLC; Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation and/or Amphibious Vehicle Manufacturing LLC, who are being sued for wrongful death, outrageous conduct, strict product liability, infliction of emotional distress, unfair business practices and negligence.
According to a 2002 National Transportation Safety Board report cited in the lawsuit, it was recommended that owners and operators remove duck boats’ canopies, which “essentially caged [passengers], making escape in limited time available extremely difficult.”
“The report also concluded that ‘the natural buoyancy of the passengers’ bodies forced them into the overhead canopy, which acted like a net to entrap them and to prevent their vertical escape,’” the complaint states.
The NTSB report was issued after 13 people died in a duck boat accident in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1999.
Sunday’s 45-page lawsuit claims the defendants ignored these recommendations because the recommended upgrades would be expensive.
Just last year, according to the complaint, an inspector concluded that the bilge pumps on Ride the Ducks’ boats were improperly placed in the exhaust system and could fail in bad weather.
The victims’ relatives say the doomed duck boat was unsuccessful as it battled the 60 mph winds and 4-foot waves.
“Despite the fact that defendants knew their duck boats were unfit to be used even in ideal conditions, on the date of this catastrophe, defendants’ greed caused them to ignore severe weather conditions that demanded they cancel all trips scheduled for their duck boats,” the lawsuit states. “Despite countless explicit warnings, defendants repeatedly chose to value profits over the safety of their passengers, and sent Stretch Duck 07 and thirty-one people out on Table Rock Lake on July 19, 2018, where the vessel took on water and sank to the bottom of the lake, dragging seventeen innocent victims to their avoidable deaths and causing life altering injuries to the fourteen passengers who survived.”
One of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Philadelphia-based attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, said at a press conference Monday, “For 20 years, we have known that the duck boats are death traps. It was proven yet again in devastating fashion in Branson, Missouri.”
“It is clear that they knew severe weather was coming and they tried to beat the storm by going on the water first rather than refunding the 40 bucks that each of these people paid putting their lives at risk,” Mongeluzzi said, referring to the boats as “sinking coffins”.
The captain of the boat also allegedly told passengers that they would not need their lifejackets as plastic curtains were lowered, further entrapping the passengers and crew as the boat capsized.
The lawsuit says the horrific event was the result of “decades of unacceptable, greed-driven, and willful ignorance of safety by the duck boat industry in the face of specific and repeated warnings that their duck boats are death traps for passengers and pose grave danger to the public on water and on land.”
In a statement Monday, Ripley Entertainment said the company is “deeply saddened by the tragic accident that occurred in Branson and we are supportive of the affected families,” but cannot comment further because the NTSB investigation is still ongoing.