Almost a year after the tragic sinking of a “Ride The Ducks” boat in Missouri, which killed 17 passengers, more than half of the civil lawsuits filed against the operator have settled, or are in the process of settling with the families.
On July 19, 2018, a Duck Boat owned by Ripley Entertainment Inc. carrying 29 passengers and two crew members on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri, initiated a lake tour despite several severe storm warnings in the forecast. The amphibious tour boat ultimately took on water, capsized and sank, as bystanders on shore watched the tragedy unfold.
The incident resulted in the deaths of one crew member and 16 passengers, who were reportedly told they did not need to put their life jackets on even when the stability of the boat was in apparent danger.
Following the tragedy, surviving victims and the families of the deceased filed lawsuits against various defendants. The Bransen duck boat lawsuits accused the operators of being negligent and failing to follow National Transportation Safety Board safety repair recommendations and National Weather Service warnings.
The duck boat lawsuits alleged 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 before and during the tour, the company put profit before customer safety.
As of July 1, 2019, at least 19 of the 33 claims filed against Ripley have reportedly been settled for undisclosed sums, while another seven lawsuits are currently in negotiations or have mediation scheduled.
To date, three of the company’s employees, including the surviving captain, have been indicted on federal charges. Shortly after the incident the captain, Kenneth McKee, was indicted for failing to properly asses the weather and failed to tell passengers to put their flotation devices on as the conditions worsened.
One survivor of the 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. Herself and a nephew are were the only survivors from the family group.
On June 24, 2019, Curtis Lanaham, the general manager at Ride the Ducks in Branson, and Charles Baltzell, the operations supervisor, were charged with misconduct and neglect in a 47-count indictment. Among the charges include misconduct and negligence by a vessel captain or executive officer resulting in the death of another person.
Ride the Ducks boat tours are available across the U.S. in different states offering lake and road tours in vehicles that were originally repurposed DUKW six-wheeled amphibious vehicles used during World War II and the Korean War. Most are modified CCKW trucks designed to transport soldiers and supplies over water, however, after the war many began being used as tour boats, most popularly for the “Ride the Duck” franchise.
Since 1977, when Ride the Ducks Corporation was founded, 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.