Ripley Entertainment, the owner of a Branson, MO duck boat that sank in July, has settled its first lawsuit with the remaining family of a couple who died aboard Stretch Duck 07.
The Kansas City Star reports that William Bright, 65, and Janice Bright, 63—both from Higginsville, MO—were aboard Stretch Duck 07 on July 19. The captain, ignoring a poor weather forecast, found the vessel struggling to stay afloat in heavy water.
Heavy winds and tall waves on Table Rock Lake eventually brought down the duck boat, killing 17 passengers.
Numerous survivors, along with relatives of the deceased, have filed suits against Ripley Entertainment and its local associates.
The Brights’ three adult daughters—Michelle Chaffer, Rebekah Whittington and Christina Taylor—filed their suit within weeks of their parents’ deaths. Their suit named Ripley Entertainment, Ride the Ducks International LLC and both the boat’s driver and captain as defendants.
Attorney Adam graves, who represents the trio, said the settlement between the three and Ripley was finalized last Thursday.
“Our people are satisfied,” Graves said. “They felt like they were really genuine in what they were doing. […] One of the first things Ripley said when they came into mediation was, ‘We are a family company, and we value family.’
The Bright family’s lawsuit, writes the Kansas City Star, is one of several involving the Table Rock Lake tragedy.
Graves said the terms of the settlement are confidential. However, the agreement was reached strictly with Ripley—the three other parties named in the suit will remain defendants.
Asked whether Ride the Ducks International was interested in settling, Graves wasn’t able to give a clear-cut answer.
“Their counsel said, ‘Yes, we want to talk, but we’ve got to talk to Ride the Ducks and get back to you,’” he said.
Stretch Duck 07’s captain, Scott McKee, was indicted earlier in the month for his alleged role in the vessel’s sinking. He’s accused of misconduct, negligence and inattention to duty. McKee is also being charged with what the Star describes as a ‘litany of federal law overseeing boat captains.’
The violations include ‘not properly assessing incoming weather before taking the boat out on water’ and ‘operating the boat in conditions that violate the U.S. Coast Guard’s certificate of inspection.’
McKee had purportedly heard National Weather Service alerts that indicated Table Rock Lake would be hit by winds in excess of 60 miles per hour. The water appeared calm when Stretch Duck 07 took to the water but quickly took a turn for the worse.
A federal investigation has revealed that Stretch Duck 07’s powerful bilge pumps—capable of removing up to 250 gallons of water per minute—were taken out and replaced with a weaker, electric alternative that had only a tenth of its predecessor’s pumping capacity.
Graves said his client’s main concern wasn’t money but ensuring that unsafe duck boats don’t end up back on the water.
“Before money was even discussed, our people said the only thing they wanted out of this case was that the duck boats that exist today do not end up back on the water,” Graves said.
He added that his team was impressed with Ripley’s willingness to negotiate.
“They were really willing to make these people whole,” he said. “They were really trying to reach forward and say, ‘We cannot bring your loved ones back, but we’re willing to do what we can to make you whole.’
“And at the end of the day, we really felt that they did what they could.”