Branson duck boat operator filed paperwork invoking a 1850s maritime law asking a federal court to limit its liability to close to zero in the accident.
According to a CNN report, Ripley Entertainment, operator of Branson Duck Vehicles, filed paperwork asking the court to use the roughly 168-year-old law called Shipowner’s Limitation of Liability Act to declare they aren’t liable for the accident because the boat was properly maintained and prepared for the voyage on the fateful night of July 19. After the amphibious vehicle sank in Table Rock Lake, it was a complete loss. Because of that, the company believes that the old law applies.
“Except as provided in section 30506 of this title, the liability of the owner of a vessel for any claim, debt, or liability described in subsection (b) shall not exceed the value of the vessel and pending freight,” reads the law.
For the court to apply this law, it would have to determine that the freight, which in the case appears to be the people on board who died, is virtually worthless. A total of 17 people, ages 1 to 76, perished when the boat sank amidst a raging storm, and nine of those victims were members of Tia Coleman’s family. Only Coleman and her nephew survived the horrific ordeal. She lost her husband and three children in addition to five other members of her extended family.
Coleman said that having her lost family declared worthless is not only incredibly hurt, but is also an incredibly insensitive move on the part of the duck boat operator. For its part, Ripley Entertainment intends to settle with families individually it said. According to the Chicago Tribune, if a judge ruled in the company’s favor, all federal lawsuits stemming from the incident could be consolidated into one case. Even so, for survivors and those who lost loved ones, the filing adds insult to injury during such a terrible ordeal.
Two companies facing multiple lawsuits in a duck boat accident that killed 17 people near Branson, Missouri, invoked an 1851 law that allows vessel owners to try to avoid or limit legal damages https://t.co/6VKCFVYiMe pic.twitter.com/GcGrLHPJ0H— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) October 16, 2018
One of Coleman’s attorneys, Robert J. Mongeluzzi, disputed that claim. He said, “Ripley’s claim that the lives of the family members they killed with their outrageous and criminal conduct are worthless is yet another insult to these grieving family members from the Ripley’s organization. Let us be clear, there have been no offers of settlement. None.”
“Anyone who cares about people or has any human decency should boycott Ripley and their attractions,” said Coleman.
Mongeluzzi predicted that the federal court would dismiss Ripley Entertainment’s claim outright. Coleman’s legal team plans to aggressively fight and dismantle what Mongeluzzi called an “inhuman legal ploy.”
In September, Coleman filed an unlawful death lawsuit in federal court over the deaths of her husband and children. Estates of two other Coleman family members who perished also filed suit asking for damages of $100 million.