A Center City law firm that had represented the families of three victims killed in duck boat accidents in Philadelphia has filed a federal lawsuit in Kansas City, Mo., on behalf of the estates of two of the 17 people who died after a Ride the Ducks boat sank in a Missouri lake this month.
The firm of Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky filed the suit Sunday, seeking more than $100 million in damages and alleging that the Missouri tragedy was predictable and preventable, and that the defendants placed profit over greed.
Robert Mongeluzzi, who announced the lawsuit Monday in Kansas City, said in a telephone interview that "the most outrageous part of this" is that Florida-based Ripley Entertainment, which bought the duck boat operation in Branson, Mo., in December 2017, knew of the dangers of an impending severe thunderstorm but didn't want to cancel the tour and give ticket refunds to the 29 passengers on the boat that later sank.
The amphibious vehicle tour was to first include a tour through the streets of Branson, followed by the lake tour, but the company changed the schedule and "put the water portion first — an admission they were trying to beat the weather," Mongeluzzi said. "The only explanation is they didn't want to refund them $40."
The July 19 sinking in Table Rock Lake in Branson was the worst duck-boat disaster in U.S. history, attorneys said in a news release Monday.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the estates of Ervin Coleman, 76, and his great-nephew Maxwell Coleman Ly, 2, two of the nine members of an Indianapolis family who drowned in the lake.
In addition to Ripley Entertainment, the suit also names as defendants the former operators and manufacturers or designers of the duck boats in Branson: Ride the Ducks International in Jefferson City, Mo.; Ride the Ducks of Branson; as well as the Herschend Family Entertainment Corp. and Amphibious Vehicle Manufacturing, also in Branson.
Mongeluzzi said the other defendants failed to take action in regard to prior warnings about the dangerous design of duck boats.
The tragedy was predictable following decades of "unacceptable, greed-driven, and willful ignorance of safety by the Duck Boat industry in the face of specific and repeated warnings that their Duck Boats are death traps for passengers and pose grave danger to the public on water and on land," the suit says.
"On numerous occasions before July 19, 2018, Defendants were warned that the canopies used on their Duck Boats were dangerous and created death traps for passengers in the event of emergency," the suit says.
Suzanne Smagala, a Ripley spokesperson, declined to comment on the lawsuit Monday, beyond an emailed statement noting that the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident.
The suit notes that before acquiring the Branson operations of Ride the Ducks International, Ripley Entertainment hired an inspector, Steven Paul, to inspect the amphibious vehicles. Paul told the company that the duck boats' engines and the pumps that remove water from their hulls might fail in bad weather, the suit says.
From 1999 to 2016, dozens of people were killed by duck boats, the lawsuit details.
In the first fatal accident involving a duck boat in Philadelphia, on July 7, 2010, a barge pushed by a tugboat struck a duck boat stranded in the Delaware River off Penn's Landing after an engine fire. The amphibious craft capsized and two Hungarian tourists, Dora Schwendtner and Szabolcs Prem, drowned.
Five years later, on May 8, 2015, a Ride the Ducks vehicle heading west on Arch Street near 11th in Chinatown ran over a tourist from Beaumont, Texas, Elizabeth Karnicki, 68, who was crossing the intersection.
Mongeluzzi's firm represented the estates of the Hungarian tourists and Karnicki in civil suits. The 2010 crash was settled for $17 million; the 2015 case settlement was confidential, he said.
The firm also represents the estates of three other members of the Coleman family — Horace Coleman; his wife, Belinda Coleman; and their daughter Angela Coleman.
In October 2016, Ride the Ducks suspended its operations in Philadelphia "indefinitely," citing an increase in insurance premiums that it said made its operations in the city "not financially feasible."
A second lawsuit was filed Monday in Missouri state court on behalf of three daughters of William and Janice Bright, of Higginsville, Mo., who died in the Branson accident. The wrongful-death lawsuit seeks more than $125,000 in damages.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.