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A memorial in front of Ride the Ducks Branson mourns victims of the July 19 accident.
Photo courtesy Ride the Ducks Branson
A memorial in front of Ride the Ducks Branson mourns victims of the July 19 accident.

Lawsuit calls for duck boat ban

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A lawsuit filed yesterday on behalf of family members who died in the recent Ride the Ducks accident seeks at least $100 million in damages and an end to the duck boat industry in its current form.

Attorneys with Philadelphia-based Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky PC this morning held a news conference in Kansas City to discuss the lawsuit. The law firm secured a $17 million settlement following a 2010 duck boat crash in Philadelphia. This morning’s news conference was livestreamed by Fox 4 News in Kansas City.

The suit was filed on behalf of the estates of Ervin Coleman, 76, and Maxwell Coleman Ly, 2, two of nine members of an Indiana family who died in the July 19 accident. In total, the accident killed 17 people when the boat capsized on Table Rock Lake.

Robert Mongeluzzi, co-founder of the firm, said duck boat operators have known for 20 years — after a National Transportation Safety Board investigation — that the nonremovable canopies on the vehicles can cause passengers to be trapped inside if capsized.

“It was proven yet again in devastating fashion in Branson, Missouri,” he said during the news conference. “With this lawsuit, we hope we’ll drive the death trap duck boats out of business.”

Mongeluzzi said Ride the Ducks Branson officials were made aware of incoming severe weather ahead of the accident.

Operators adjusted the schedule, he said, by opting to go on the water portion of the attraction before the land portion. That, Mongeluzzi said, is atypical of usual trips.

“It was clear they knew severe weather was coming and they tried to beat the storm by going on the water first,” he said.

Mongeluzzi referenced the NTSB’s initial review of the digital video recorder system on the Ride the Ducks vessel that capsized. The report, which was released July 27, states crews knew beforehand a storm was on its way. However, “no conclusions regarding the cause of the accident should be made from this preliminary information,” according to the NTSB.

“Since they have not responded to the NTSB, in my view, the only thing that will change them is a massive jury verdict with punitive damages,” Mongeluzzi said of Ride the Ducks Branson owner Ripley Entertainment Inc.

Discussing the industry’s dismissal of NTSB recommendations, Mongeluzzi said: “The only reason why, that I can surmise, is money and profit.”

The suit names Ripley Entertainment Inc., as well as previous Ride the Ducks Branson owner Herschend Family Entertainment Corp.

“In December 2017, (the Ripley Entertainment) conglomerate bought the Ride the Ducks operations from Ride the Ducks International, which was owned by Herschend Family Entertainment,” Mongeluzzi said, adding the duck boat that went out on July 19, “we believe was designed by Ride the Ducks International.”

Representing the survivors, Mongeluzzi said he would be open to the duck boat industry continuing if the operators were to heed NTSB safety recommendations and design and implement new vessels.

In addressing the media, Mongeluzzi was bold in describing the suffering the victims endured during the latest accident involving Ride the Ducks.

Mongeluzzi described two portions of the brain that react when someone is drowning. One, he said, tells the person not to breath underwater because they’ll drown, while the other, more instinctual part, says to breath because there is no oxygen.

“Ultimately, that instinctive urge wins out and you breathe in seawater and you know you’re drowning in the dark and you’ll never see your loved ones again,” he said. “It is a horrific, unimaginable way to die.”

Reached this morning, Ripley spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala-Potts said since the company is cooperating with the NTSB investigation, it is “not allowed to comment on anything.”


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