By Diana Kruzman July 30 (Reuters) – The families of two of the 17 people killed when a World War Two-style tourist “duck boat” sank on a Missouri lake during a storm earlier this month have sued the tour operator, calling the accident the “result of decades of unacceptable, greed-driven, and willful ignorance of safety.”
Relatives of Ervin Coleman, 76, and 2-year-old Maxwell Ly, his great nephew, of Indianapolis, on Sunday sued tour operator Ripley Entertainment Inc, which operates under the name Ride the Ducks, and vessel manufacturer Amphibious Vehicle Manufacturing LLC, alleging they “recklessly risked the lives of its passengers for purely financial reasons.”
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Kansas City, Missouri, seeks $100 million in damages.
There were 31 passengers aboard the duck boat on Table Rock Lake, outside Branson, Missouri, on July 19 when hurricane-strength winds churned up the water and sunk the craft, causing one of the deadliest U.S. tourist tragedies in recent years.
The boats, modeled on the amphibious landing craft used in the D-Day invasion, have a checkered history including more than three dozen fatalities on water and land, including the Branson sinking, according to the complaint.
“This tragedy was the predictable and predicted 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,” the complaint said.
Robert Mongeluzzi, an attorney for the families, told a news conference, “The quest for justice includes doing everything within our power to ban duck boats once and for all,” according to a statement.
Mongeluzzi represented the families of two people killed when a duck boat crashed into a barge and sank in Philadelphia in 2010, winning a $17 million settlement.
Seven other members of Coleman and Ly’s families were killed in the incident, and Mongeluzzi’s law firm said in the statement that its lawyers plan to file lawsuits on behalf of other victims.
Ripley Entertainment declined comment on the lawsuit, but said it was “deeply saddened” by the incident.
The suit alleges that Ride the Ducks endangered passengers by letting the boat out onto the water after the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the area, and that passengers were not told to put on life jackets. It also cites a 2017 report from a private inspector who concluded that duck boats were prone to engine failure in bad weather.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the accident.
A duck boat sank in Arkansas in 1999, killing 13 people and prompting the NTSB to recommend changes to duck boats’ design to make them less prone to capsizing. Monday’s lawsuit alleges that Ride the Ducks ignored these warnings due to cost. (Reporting by Diana Kruzman in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)
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