A family who lost nine loved ones in the tragic duck boat sinking in Missouri earlier this month have filed a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit against the boat operating company.
The suit, filed on behalf of the families of several victims, accuses Ripley Entertainment, Ride The Ducks of Branson, Herschend Family Entertainment and others of gross negligence, wrongful death and product liability. According to ABC News, the lawsuit states that the amphibious vehicle’s operators violated the company’s own policies by launching the craft despite severe weather warnings.
In addition, it notes that the captain violated strict safety guidelines by instructing passengers not to put on life jackets, instead choosing to lower the plastic side curtains, “thus further entrapping passengers in the soon-to-sink vessel.”
The duck boat was carrying 29 passengers and two Ride the Ducks employees on July 19 when it embarked on a tour of Table Rock Lake in fair weather. However, the wind quickly picked up, and soon the boat was struggling through a massive swell, eventually causing it to capsize and sink. Seventeen of those on board drowned, with just 12 barely escaping with their lives.
“This tragedy was the predictable and predicted result of decades of unacceptable, greed-driven, and willful ignorance of safety by the Duck Boat industry in the face of specific and repeated warnings that their Duck Boats are death traps for passengers and pose grave danger to the public on water and on land,” the suit says, as reported by NBC News.
According to the Kansas City Star, the lawsuit “cites several prior incidents involving duck boats,” and also includes a letter from Ride The Ducks president Robert McDowell to the NTSB in which he responds to their recommendations for boat safety upgrades.
After the “Miss Majestic” duck boat sank and killed 13 passengers in 1999, the NTSB suggested a backup buoyancy system that would keep the vehicle afloat should it take on water. According to records, the Miss Majestic took just one minute to sink after taking on some initial water.
However, far from embracing the recommendations, McDowell responded that such upgrades would “require considerable feasibility, evaluation and thus expense.”
Jim Hall, the then-NTSB chairman, replied to McDowell, urging that “immediate action was necessary to avoid additional loss of life.”
McDowell reportedly attempted to modify the boats himself, despite his lack of engineering experience. “Robert McDowell’s challenge of the NTSB chairman and the NTSB safety recommendation was driven solely by an attempt to value profits over the safety of Defendants’ passengers as Mr. McDowell had no training or formal background in engineering,” the lawsuit continued.
Ripley Entertainment purchased Ride The Ducks in Branson in 2017. Ripley spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala said that the company would not be commenting further because an NTSB investigation is underway and thus no conclusions have yet been reached on the cause of the accident.