Two companies facing multiple lawsuits over a summer duck boat accident have invoked a 1851 law originally passed to protect paddle wheel steam boats plying the nation’s rivers. The law allows vessel owners to try to avoid or limit legal damages as they also seek settlement negotiations with victims’ family members.
But Tia Coleman, who lost most of her family in the accident, and lawyers for others whose family members died denounced the filing Monday by attorneys for Ripley Entertainment Inc., based in Orlando, Florida, and Branson Duck Vehicles of Branson, as callous and insulting. The companies’ filing was in federal court in Kansas City, where multiple lawsuits are pending.
“Ripley’s inhuman legal ploy will sink as fast as their death trap duck boat did,” Robert Mongeluzzi, a Philadelphia attorney representing accident victims, said in a statement Monday night. “We will legally and factually demolish this frivolous claim.”
If a judge concluded that the federal law cited by Ripley and Branson Duck Vehicles applies, claims for damages over the July 19 accident on Table Rock Lake could be consolidated into a single federal court case. The companies’ petition states that under the federal law, they would not owe any damages because the boat carried no freight and was a total loss.
But the filing came less than a week after attorneys for Ripley and Branson Duck Vehicles asked U.S. District Judge M. Douglas Harpool for a 90-day extension of court filing deadlines so that they could pursue a potential settlement. Harpool said he would consider the request at a Nov. 1 hearing.
Ripley spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala-Potts said the type of filing made Monday is “common in claims related to maritime incidents.” She said the goal is to delay the multiple court cases to give the parties time for mediation.