Families of Victims Say the Builder and Owners Knew the Boats Were Dangerous
The Branson duck boat industry ignored warnings to change the design of their boats for two decades even though dozens of people died in disasters before the July accident in Missouri that killed 17 people on Table Rock Lake, according to a federal lawsuit that seeks $100 million in damages.
Ride the Ducks International sold boats that were defective and unreasonably dangerous, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Missouri by administrators of the estates of Ervin Coleman, 76, and Maxwell Ly, 2, two of the 17 who died. The lawsuit also named Ripley Entertainment Inc.; Ride the Ducks of Branson LLC; Herschend Family Entertainment Corp. and Amphibious Vehicle Manufacturing LLC.
“We hope that we will drive the death-trap duck boats out of business,” said Philadelphia attorney Robert Mongeluzzi.
Ripley spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala-Potts said the company is “saddened” by the accident.
We hope that we will drive the death-trap duck boats out of business.—Attorney Robert Mongeluzzi
A second lawsuit was filed in Taney County in Missouri against Ride the Ducks International LLC; Ripley Entertainment Inc.; Kenneth McKee and Robert Williams by the three daughters of drowning victims William and Janice Bright. Robert Williams, the co-captain of the duck boat, also died.
The Taney County lawsuit seeks damages of more than $25,000 from Ride the Ducks International, more than $25,000 from Ripley Entertainment, more than $25,000 from the two duck boat crew members and punitive damages.
The federal lawsuit said the companies “blatantly ignored” recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board after 13 people drowned in Lake Hamilton in Arkansas in 1999 and after two Hungarian tourists drowned in Philadelphia in 2010.
The federal lawsuit also said Ripley Entertainment “prioritized profits over safety” in putting the boat in the water even though a severe thunderstorm warning predicted winds of up to 60 mph.
Ripley Entertainment Inc. bought the assets of the Branson duck boat tour business in December, according to Ripley. Ripley Entertainment does not own Ride the Ducks International.
In June 2000, Robert McDowell, then the president of Ride the Ducks Branson, wrote the chairman of the NTSB after the board told duck boat makers “without delay” to alter their boats so they wouldn’t sink when flooded like the duck boat in Arkansas.
“We have a potential solution that we are pursuing at the time,” McDowell wrote Jim Hall, then the NTSB chairman. “It will require considerable feasibility evaluation, and thus expense.”
Hall wrote back, saying the recommendations were made “because the Board believed that immediate action was necessary to avoid additional loss of life.”
In 2001, Ride the Ducks International partnered with Herschend Family Entertainment to expand. Herschend Family Entertainment is a privately owned theme-park company that owns Silver Dollar City Branson, co-owns Dollywood in Pigeon Ford, Tenn., and operates Stone Mountain Park in Georgia. The company also owns the Harlem Globetrotters.
As DCReport.org has reported, McDowell had no training in engineering or mechanics and designed the boats, some built from surplus World War II amphibious boats, after consulting “a transmission person, as well as the maintenance people at the local Penske Truck group and the U-Haul down the street,” according to a previous lawsuit.
In June 2002, just two months after the NTSB issued its report on the Arkansas fatalities, a duck boat sank in the Ottawa River in Canada. Four passengers, including a mother and her two children, were trapped under the boat’s canopy and drowned.
Two people were killed in 2010 when a barge overran a duck boat near in Philadelphia, where one person was killed five years later on land in another accident. Five people were killed and 69 injured four months later in Seattle when the front axle of a duck boat broke. In April 2016, a Boston woman was run over by a 2.5-ton duck boat while riding her scooter.