Families blast duck boat companies that deny liability in deadly accident: report

The two companies facing multiple lawsuits after the sinking of a duck boat in July that resulted in 17 deaths cited an 1851 maritime law that would limit or eliminate their liability in the tragedy, a report said.

Branson Duck Vehicles and Ripley Entertainment -- both defendants -- denied negligence in the sinking of the boat in a Missouri lake near Branson, according to a court filing on Monday.

Should the court find them responsible, their liability is zero because the "vessel was a total loss and has no current value. No freight was pending on the Vessel," the Indianapolis Star reported.

The law, known as the Shipowner's Limitation of Liability Act, limits damages to the salvaged value of sunken vessels.

Tia Coleman, an Indianapolis woman who lost nine family members in the July 19 accident, slammed the court filing.

"Ripley’s legal claim that my husband and children are worthless is incredibly hurtful and insensitive," Coleman said in a statement. "Anyone who cares about people or has any human decency should boycott Ripley and their attractions."

Coleman has filed a lawsuit against Ripley Entertainment, the tour operator, and Branson Duck Vehicles, which owned the boat.

The tour boat was traveling on Table Rock Lake amid strong winds and intense waves when it capsized, killing 17, including a crew member. Fourteen people survived.

A mechanical inspector tried warning Branson Duck Vehicles about massive design flaws and dangerous safety issues with the duck boat almost a year before the accident.

"Ripley’s inhuman legal ploy will sink as fast as their death trap duck boat did,” said Robert J. Mongeluzzi, an attorney representing some of the victims. “We will legally and factually demolish this frivolous claim.”

Mongeluzzi is seeking $100 million in a wrongful death lawsuit for two deceased passengers, including one member of the Coleman family. No settlement offers have been made, he said.

The lawsuit alleges Ripley's put profit over people's lives.

A spokeswoman for Ripley's told the paper that the filing is common in maritime incidents. The filing will give the parties time for mediation, she said.

"While this filing may limit the company’s liability, we are filing this request at the same time we are actively pursuing mediation and settlement with those most affected, and have already scheduled, or are in the process of scheduling mediations," the statement read, according to the report.

At least 10 other lawsuits have been filed on behalf of other victims.