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Lawsuits & Litigation

Coleman Family Launches Second Suit After Duck Boat Tragedy

— August 2, 2018

Members of the Coleman family, which lost 11 relatives in a Missouri duck boat accident, have filed a second lawsuit against the aquatic tour’s operators.

USA Today reports that the estates of Belinda and Angela Coleman are listed as plaintiffs.

The suit alleges that the duck boats owners and operators intentionally ignored design problems and warnings, prioritizing profit over passengers’ safety.

Seventeen people died when the duck boat capsized and sank during a July storm in Branson, MO. Nine of the dead were members of the Coleman family.

“Our family tree is broken,” said one of Belinda’s surviving sisters, Lisa Berry. “The pain and the hurt we feel is incredible.”

An attorney for the Coleman family says the ‘duck boat industry’ needs to appreciate how its negligence may have caused the tragic incident.

“I tell the duck boat industry this: ‘Watch this. Look at their faces. Remember their names and understand the incredible loss,’” said lawyer Bob Mongeluzzi.

Mongeluzzi said the suit’s main intent is to drive duck boats out of business. Comparing the vessels with ‘sinking coffins,’ the attorney suggested that safety is but a secondary concern aboard the boats.

“Duck boats are sinking coffins,” he said. “Once they take on water, they sink. And they sink fast.”

Speaking at a Tuesday press conference, Mongeluzzi said he expects more suits will be filed.

The litigants have also claimed that the duck boat operators should have been aware that inclement weather was predicted for the same day. Image via Pxhere/Tookapic. Public domain.

The second piece of litigation highlights historical accidents tied to duck boats. It lists 26 deaths spread between 6 separate events as precursors to the Branson tragedy. Attorneys for the Coleman family say that tour operators ignored National Transportation Safety Board warnings; the NTSB has cautioned that duck boat canopies present a hazard, having the potential to trap victims underwater after a vehicle begins to sink.

Along with ignoring safety warnings, the suit accuses the Branson tour operator—Ripley Entertainment—of improper maintenance. Ripley had allegedly been told that its duck boats had engines and bilge pumps that “might fail in bad weather due to improper placement of the boats’ exhaust system.”

“Prior to this catastrophe, the Duck Boat industry knew that their Duck Boats were entirely unfit to be used for any purpose and had previously been responsible for dozens of deaths,” says the suit.

Ripley says its boats were upgraded with modern technology but refuses to comment on the state of their vessels until an NTSB investigation concludes.

On Tuesday, Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill introduced legislation mandating safety improvements to duck boats. It would require them to be more buoyant and equipped with canopies that can be released in case of emergency.

“Nearly 20 years ago following a similar incident, recommendations were made to help prevent tragedies like we experienced in Branson but they were largely ignored,” said McCaskill, a Democrat. “It’ll take some time before we know exactly what went wrong in Branson, but there’s absolutely no reason to wait to take this commonsense step.”


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