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A memorial sits outside Ride the Ducks Branson in summer 2018. The depot has since been converted into a new attraction.
SBJ file photo
A memorial sits outside Ride the Ducks Branson in summer 2018. The depot has since been converted into a new attraction.

Ripley settles cases as Ride the Ducks anniversary nears

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Ripley Entertainment Inc. is working through more than 30 settlements ahead of the one-year anniversary of the deadly accident on Table Rock Lake involving its Ride the Ducks Branson attraction.

A quarterly status report filed on July 1 with the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Missouri points to one lawsuit that has been settled with all documentation completed. Another 18 suits have been settled and documentation is being prepared, while six claims currently are being negotiated, according to the court document provided to Springfield Business Journal by Suzanne Smagala-Potts, public relations manager for Ripley.

One was scheduled for mediation yesterday — though a court filing has not been made — and seven claims have not yet been scheduled for mediation, according to the court document.

Smagala-Potts declined to disclose the financial value of the settlements, and the court document also does not contain that information.

The lawsuits, filed largely on behalf of passengers who died in the accident, allege wrongful death and negligence claims against Ripley and Ride the Ducks Branson, as well as employees of the companies.

July 19 will mark the one-year anniversary of the storm that caused a Ride the Ducks vessel to capsize, killing 17 of the 31 passengers on board.

In one lawsuit fully that’s been fully closed, Michelle Chaffer, Rebekah Whittington and Christina Taylor claimed negligence in the deaths of their parents, William and Janice Bright. Settlement terms were redacted in court records. In another suit — which is being negotiated — a law firm representing a single Indiana family, who had nine members die in the accident, sought $100 million in damages, according to SBJ reporting.

“The report that was filed with the court demonstrates Branson Ride The Ducks’ continuing commitment to work with the victims and families who were affected by the unprecedented storm and resulting accident that occurred last July,” a statement from Ripley, sent by Smagala-Potts, reads. “While we know lives lost cannot be replaced, the report outlines that we have reached settlements with many of the families and continue to work with others.”

Tim Garrison, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, last month filed more charges against Ripley employees who were involved in the Ride the Ducks accident. Curtis Lanham, 36, of Galena, Charles Baltzell, 76, of Kirbyville, and Kenneth McKee, 51, of Verona, face charges of misconduct and negligence that led to the passengers’ deaths, according to past SBJ reporting.

Earlier this year, Ripley announced Ride the Ducks would close for at least the 2019 season. At its former depot, a new attraction from Ripley called Branson Top Ops recently opened.

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