Relatives of two drowning victims are seeking $100 million in damages after 17 people died on an amphibious “Ride the Ducks” vehicle in Missouri 10 days ago.
The wrongful death lawsuit likens the boats to “death traps” and sinking coffins.
“Once they take on water, they sink, and they sink fast,” attorney Robert J. Mongeluzzi, who is representing the victims’ family, told reporters Monday.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri on Sunday, seeks damages on behalf of the estates of Ervin Coleman, 76, and Maxwell Ly, 2.
The lawsuit cites the operators’ history of safety issues and previous deaths, and accuses them of ignoring past safety recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board. Those recommendations include removing a canopy that prevents people from escaping the boat when it’s taking on water, Mongeluzzi said.
The defendants named in the lawsuit are Ripley Entertainment Inc., Ride the Ducks International, Ride the Ducks of Branson, the Herschend Family Entertainment Corp., and Amphibious Vehicle Manufacturing. A spokesperson for Ripley Entertainment, which owns Ride the Ducks of Branson, declined comment to The Associated Press because of the ongoing investigation.
“The quest for justice includes doing everything within our power to ban duck boats once and for all,” said Mongeluzzi.
The boat that sank on July 19 was carrying 31 people as severe thunderstorms moved across Missouri’s Table Rock Lake. Of the 17 people killed, nine were members of a single family.
Survivor Tia Coleman, whose husband, Glenn, and three children, Reece, 9, Evan, 7, and Arya, 1, died in the catastrophe, recalled that the boat sank quickly after being overcome by a massive swell.
“If I was able to get a life jacket, I could have saved my babies,” Coleman told reporters. “Because they could have at least floated up to the top and somebody could have grabbed them. And I wasn’t able to do that.”
Coleman said one of the workers told passengers where the boat’s life jackets were located but said: “You won’t need them.”
“So we didn’t grab them,” she said.
Mongeluzzi said relatives of Ervin Coleman and Maxwell Ly reached out to him after he won a major settlement following another duck boat tragedy in Pennsylvania in 2010 that left two people dead. (Tia Coleman is also related to Coleman and Ly, but is not named in the lawsuit.)
Prior to this month’s tragedy, at least 26 other people have died in duck boat-related accidents since 1999. The now second-deadliest incident was in 1999 in Hot Springs, Arkansas, when 13 people were killed.