Ervin Coleman, who lost nine members of his family in a July 19 duck boat accident in Branson, Mo., sued the companies that run the vessels Sunday, saying that they knew for years that the boats were unsafe but continued to run them, a move his attorney calls “outrageous.”
The attorney for Coleman said not only was the company negligent for taking 29 passengers on the lake amid a strong storm that its operator knew about ahead of time, but that the Ride the Ducks operators across the country have long known that the boats had safety issues, and have “rebuffed suggestions from a federal agency that would have made them safer.”
Seventeen people died on July 19.
“It is an absolute disgrace that those fatal designs were, in a very public way, pointed out over 16 years ago,” said Andrew Duffy, who represents the estates of Coleman and grandnephew Maxwell, on Monday. “And the duck boat industry did nothing. And that is outrageous.”
The Kansas City Star reports on what was supposed to be a fun family day that went terribly wrong:
A Ride the Ducks boat with 31 people on board started a tour during the evening of July 19 and got caught in a severe storm that caused the boat to sink. A video of the incident shows large waves and 60 mile-per-hour winds battering the duck boat as it struggled against the storm in a vain attempt to make it ashore.
An initial National Transportation Safety Board investigation shows that the operators of Ride the Ducks knew about the storm — a severe thunderstorm warning had been issued as the ride started — and decided to reverse the ordinary course of the tour by starting it on water. The report said someone, it’s not specified who, told the boat’s crew to start the tour on water.
Attorneys for the families allege that decision was one made with the purpose of trying to get the water portion of the tour done before bad weather arrived.
Jim Pattison, Jr., president of Ripley Entertainment, told CBS News the day after the tragedy that the vessel “shouldn’t have been on the water.”
The NTSB has sounded several warnings about duck boats over the years, especially after a 1999 incident in Arkansas, when 13 people died, but the agency is powerless to adopt or enforce regulations—only the U.S. Coast Guard can do that, and so far it has not acted on the NTSB’s suggestions.
In other related news, the governor of Indiana attended two funerals for the Coleman family this weekend, according to the Associated Press:
Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett were among those at Eastern Star Church on Saturday for the funeral of Horace Coleman, 70; his wife, Belinda Coleman, 69; Ervin Coleman, 76; Angela Coleman, 45; and her 2-year-old son, Maxwell. It came a day after the services for Glenn Coleman, 40, and his three children: 9-year-old Reece, 7-year-old Evan and 1-year-old Arya.
Tia Coleman — Glenn Coleman’s wife and mother of their children — and her 13-year-old nephew were the only two survivors among 11 Coleman family members who boarded the boat before it sank on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Mo.
The lawsuit filed on Sunday seeks $100 million in damages from the various companies involved.