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In suit, Hawley accuses Ride the Ducks of safety, fraud violations

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Before the Labor Day weekend, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley filed an extensive lawsuit against the operators of Ride the Ducks Branson.

The Aug. 31 petition filed in Taney County Circuit Court alleges Branson Duck Vehicles LLC and Ripley Entertainment Inc. are guilty of six counts of violating the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.

The suit is at least the fourth levied against the operators of Ride the Ducks Branson after 17 people died in a July 19 accident on Table Rock Lake. The vehicle capsized and sunk amid severe weather.

Among the accusations, Hawley’s office alleges the defendants operated an amphibious vehicle they knew was dangerous and “made false promises, fraudulent statements and misrepresentations to consumers that safety was their top priority when in actuality it was their own profits,” according to the petition.

Ride the Ducks, according to the petition, advertised its services by saying the company was “committed to your safety and fun while you’re aboard the duck. Your ride is one of the safest attractions or tours to do while you’re in Branson and regularly inspected by the United States Coast Guard to ensure that everything is up to code. Rigorous testing and inspections ensure that your ride is as safe as possible – with the vehicles held to the highest safety standards in the automotive and marine industries.”

The petition references September 2017 inspections by St. Louis-area vehicle inspection and appraisal company Test Drive Technologies owner Steven Paul. Paul, according to the court document, conducted 24 commercial truck inspections of the duck boats and concluded that extensive mechanical and exterior issues were present, including on the vehicle that sunk in July.

“Stretch Duck No. 7 was found to have a mechanical issue that affected the safe performance of the duck boat,” the petition reads. “The front intake hatch did not close in an emergency, which would allow water to pour into the duck boat and could cause a catastrophic event such as the sinking of the duck boat.”

Hawley alleges the defendants did not seek to redesign the duck boats to comply with U.S. Department of Transportation regulations.

In the suit, Hawley seeks restitution, civil penalties and damages, as well as a permanent injunction that would prohibit the defendants from operating or advertising duck boats in Missouri.

“This tragedy should not have happened,” Hawley said in a news release. “As Missouri’s top law enforcement officer, I am charged with protecting Missouri consumers. My hope is that this lawsuit will ensure that unsafe duck boats and companies who put profits ahead of safety will not continue to operate.

“Consumers have a reasonable expectation of safety and that was not met on July 19.”


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