“Ride the Ducks” Lawsuits Filed Over Tragic Boat Accident

A lawsuit filed this week against the owners and operators of the “Ride the Ducks” tourist boats seeks $100 million in damages, after the captain allegedly ignored severe weather warnings that resulted in a recent incident in Missouri, where a duck boat sank, killing 17 people. 

The complaint (PDF) was filed by John D. Coleman, for himself and as the administrator of the estate of Ervin Coleman, and Lisa D. Berry and Marlo Rose Wells, for themselves and as the administrators of the estate of Maxwell Ly. Both Ervin Coleman and Maxwell Ly died in the accident. Plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri on July 29, naming Ripley Entertainment Inc., Ride the Ducks International LLC, and Ride the Ducks of Branson LLC as defendants and responsible parties for the deaths of  one crewmember and 16 passengers that drowned when the vehicle capsized.

Plaintiffs allege that despite known dangers associated with the designs of the World War II era amphibious vehicles used for the tours, and warnings of severe weather approaching the day of the accident, the company put profit before customer safety.

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The fatal Ride the Ducks boat accident occurred on July 19, when the DUKW “Stretch Boat 7” carrying 29 passengers and two crew members set out on a tour of Table Rock Lake. The trip was initiated, despite severe storms approaching, which ultimately resulted in the boat capsizing when high waves crashed over the sides, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation.

The incident is the latest in a series of fatal and non-fatal duck boat accidents involving the amphibious vehicles that have resulted in wrongful death lawsuits.

According to the complaint, Ride The Ducks was previously warned by a private inspector that the vessels’ engines and pumps that remove water from the hulls to prevent sinking were susceptible to failing in bad weather. It also states the company was warned by the NTSB in 2000 that the vessels should be upgraded to ensure they remain upright and floating in bad weather.

The NTSB recommendation came after 13 people were killed on a Duck Boat tour in May 1999, in Arkansas. The NTSB report following that duck boat accident recommended that canopies on the vehicles be removed in vessels without reserve buoyancy, or that adequate buoyancy be installed. The NTSB indicated that if a canopy is used, it should be one approved by the Coast Guard.

Shortly after the NTSB recommendation, a former president of Ride the Ducks, who designed the boats, responded that the NTSB recommendations would require significant costs, and refused to improve the safety of the canopies or receive any certification from the Coast Guard.

Since 1977, when Ride the Ducks Corporation was founded, the lawsuits claims at least 42 people have been killed while touring on the vessels.

Critics say that blind spots, how low the boats sit in the water, and the canopy are all issues of concern. The blind spots have been linked to a number of the accidents on land, the boats appear to be easily swamped and capsized, and in the event of an incident, the canopy can trap and drown passengers even if they are wearing a life jacket.

One survivor of last week’s accident, Tia Coleman, said that the driver repeatedly told the passengers they would not need their life jackets, even when it was clear the boat was in trouble. Nine of her family members died, including her husband and three children, including two sons and a one-year-old daughter. Only she and a nephew survived from her family group. The driver of the duck boat, Kenneth McKee, did not.

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