Multiple investigations, and first suits, follow duck boat tragedy at Table Rock Lake

By John Breslin | Aug 6, 2018

KANSAS CITY - Investigations have been launched by various agencies, and civil lawsuits filed, following the Table Rock Lake tragedy on July 19. 

Most recently, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announced he was launching an investigation that could lead to criminal charges against the operators of the boat, which sank on Table Rock Lake during a storm killing 17, including nine members of one family.

Two lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City on behalf of four members of that same family from Indianapolis, Ervin Coleman, 76, and Maxwell Ly, 2, in one suit, and Angela Coleman and Belinda Coleman in another. They seek $100 million in damages.

Ripley Entertainment, Ride the Ducks International, Ride the Ducks of Branson, the Herschend Family Entertainment Corp. and Amphibious Vehicle Manufacturing were all named in the lawsuit.

A third suit was filed in Taney County Circuit Court in Missouri by Michelle Chaffer, Christina Taylor and Rebekah Wittington. They want more than $125,000 in damages following the deaths of their parents, William and Janice Bright.

The National Transportation Safety Board also is investigating, with a focus on both whether the operators knew a storm was brewing prior to the boat taking to the water and on the boat's worthiness. Its investigators are working alongside the US Coast Guard.

Professor Sam Halabi, a tort expert at the University of Missouri School of Law, said these multiple investigations and suits were expected.

It will come down to what the defendants knew, and when, Halabi told the St. Louis Record.

Halabi noted that there were previous cases, notably in Philadelphia and Arkansas, that will give judges presiding over any lawsuits pre-existing information, even when there is no binding precedent.

"It could be persuasive, but any judge will be pretty free to decide what to admit," Halabi said.

The plaintiffs suing in state court on behalf of two of those who died have hired a Philadelphia firm, Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky, the lead lawyers in a suit following a duck boat crash in that city that was settled for $17 million.

It is not known how the firm became involved but "as a general professional and ethical point, (attorneys) are broadly prevented from actively recruiting clients," Halabi said.

Plaintiffs in the federal court cases hired Springfield attorneys Aleshire and Robb. 

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National Transportation Safety Board Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky U.S. Coast Guard University of Missouri School of Law

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