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Lawsuits call for duck boat ban

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A federal lawsuit filed July 29 on behalf of family members who died in the Ride the Ducks accident seeks at least $100 million in damages and an end to the duck boat industry in its current form. The next day, a second family filed a wrongful death and negligence suit in Taney County Circuit Court.

The $100 million suit was filed on behalf of the estates of Ervin Coleman, 76, and Maxwell Coleman Ly, 2, two of nine members of an Indiana family who died in the July 19 accident. The accident killed 17 people when the boat capsized on Table Rock Lake.

Plaintiffs attorney Robert Mongeluzzi said duck boat operators have known for 20 years – after a National Transportation Safety Board investigation – that the nonremovable canopies on the vehicles can cause passengers to be trapped inside if capsized.

“It was proven yet again in devastating fashion in Branson, Missouri,” he said during a news conference held in Kansas City. “With this lawsuit, we hope we’ll drive the death trap duck boats out of business.”

Mongeluzzi alleged Ride the Ducks Branson officials were made aware of incoming severe weather ahead of the accident. Operators adjusted the schedule, he said, by opting to go on the water portion of the attraction before the land portion.

Mongeluzzi referenced the NTSB’s initial review of the digital video recorder system on the Ride the Ducks vessel that capsized. The report, which was released July 27, states crews knew a storm was on its way. However, NTSB officials say “no conclusions regarding the cause of the accident should be made from this preliminary information.”

The suit names Ride the Ducks Branson owner Ripley Entertainment Inc., as well as previous owner Herschend Family Entertainment Corp.

Plaintiffs in the Taney County suit are calling out the on-board operators of the vessel.

The children of William and Janice Bright, who both died in the accident, name in the suit Ride the Ducks employees Kenneth McKee and Robert Williams, as well as Ripley Entertainment Inc. and Ride the Ducks International LLC.

The suit accuses McKee and Williams, who also died in the accident, of being negligent in their operation of the vehicle. In the five counts of wrongful death and negligence, the Brights’ daughters seek an excess of $25,000, as well as judgments for funeral expenses and emotional damages, according to the court documents provided by the Taney County circuit clerk’s office.

“Defendants were well aware of the approaching storm, but rather than lose out on profit, they chose to try and beat the storm,” the suit alleges.

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