Sadly, another catastrophic incident has occurred involving a duck boat, a popular tourist attraction in Branson, Missouri, this past Thursday. Severe weather resulted in its capsizing and sinking in Table Rock Lake, while carrying 31 passengers. 17 people were killed and many more were injured. Ripley’s Entertainment Inc. operates the duck boat tours in Branson Missouri after purchasing the Branson location last December from Ride the Ducks franchise. Upon purchasing the Branson Ride the Ducks operation, Ripley stated that not much would change under the new ownership.
What is a Duck Boat?
A duck boat is an amphibious vehicle that operates on land and on sea. It is a tour that is primarily offered in lake, river, and harbor cities. The operation of duck boats both on land and at sea have resulted in serious accidents due to the unusual nature of this vehicle. In fact, the previous owners of the Branson duck boat, Ride the Ducks, have been involved in other prior accidents.
Previous Duck Boat Accidents Involving the Ride the Ducks Franchise
In July of 2010, there were two fatalities when a barge pushed by a tugboat crashed into a duck boat which was stranded on the Delaware. A $15 million settlement was reached on behalf of the families
In 2015, five people were killed and 69 injured in Seattle when their Ride the Ducks boat crashed into a charter bus. The crash was caused by a mechanical failure and improper maintenance on the part of the duck boat. Following this fatal crash, the National Transportation Safety Board criticized Ride the Ducks International for the current safety of their Duck Boats.
Devastating Loss of Life
In the most recent incident involving the famed duck boat, early reports and statements suggest some likely causes for the devastating losses of life and personal injury. First, severe weather conditions were encountered, questioning whether the tour boat should have been out on the water in the first place. A powerful line of storms had moved through the area that according to reports was well-predicted. A day before the tragic incident the Weather Service had warned of the risk of severe storms in the area.
Many tourist boat operators, even large cruise ship companies, often have to decide based on weather forecasts and predictions if it is safe to go forward with the planned voyage. Of course, cancelling a planned voyage results in a loss of profits to the operator. We have handled many cruise ship and boating accident cases involving passengers injured because the cruise ship operator (or boat operator) did not cancel a voyage but instead elected to proceed despite severe weather predictions. Individuals who operate boats must review weather forecasts and decide if it is safe to go out on the waterways.
Second, the amphibious design of the duck boat, being used on land and water, represents a potential risk. Due to their unique design, duck boats present risks of safety in of themselves. It is not easily maneuverable, sits low in the water, and can have stability issues. In addition, it’s special canopies may also present safety risks. In the most recent disaster, statements of passengers indicate the canopy played a role in preventing passengers from surviving. According to recent news reports, a private inspector had in fact warned this company who operated duck boats on the Missouri lake about these design flaws. He stated in his report that he issued to the company in August 2017 that “the boats’ engines — and pumps that remove water from their hulls — might fail in inclement weather”. Additionally, he warned that “the design flaws made the boats more susceptible to sinking and harder to escape in an emergency”. He explained that “the canopy on the ducks as well as the curtains that come down the sides, when the curtains are down, there is no way for people to escape. It becomes a people catcher.”
In addition, there are reports the operator did not encourage use of life jackets as part of their regular practice. As a result, passengers were not wearing life jackets.
Safety Advocates for those Harmed at Sea During Tour Boat Accidents
The most recent sinking of the duck boat definitely supports those who have called for termination of use of this odd vessel as a tour vehicle on land and on water. There have been serious accidents both on land and at sea. Our firm acts as safety advocates for those harmed at sea. Based on what we have learned, our tour boat accident lawyers at Rivkind and Margulies agree this popular tour attraction should be shut down before more people are injured or killed.