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Duck Boat Companies Cite Obscure 1851 Law in Wrongful Death Suit

There have been a number of injuries and deaths involving the land-water duck boats often used to cart tourists through theme parks and other attractions. One notable example is the tragic July 19 capsize and sinking on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri that left 17 dead and 7 others injured. Now owners Ripley Entertainment Inc. of Orlando, FL, and Branson Duck Vehicles of Branson respond to multiple lawsuits by invoking 1851 federal law that they claim prevents them from owing any compensation because the boat carried no freight and was a total loss. 

Stalling or legal wrangling?

If a judge rules that the law applies, the cases will be consolidated into a single case. Interestingly, the filing also comes a week after the companies asked for a 90-day extension so they could pursue mediation to settle the case with the various victims’ families. According to various reports, many of the plaintiffs’ attorneys say that there have been no offers from the companies to mediate. They add that the call for the delay and the premise of the defense is “heartless” and “frivolous” in light of the tragedies suffered.

The allegations

One of the plaintiffs’ allegations is that a 2017 inspection specifically noted that the vehicles would have trouble emptying water out of the bow and stern compartments, which could cause problems if there is rough weather. The capsize did indeed occur when a severe storm approached the area.

Too soon to tell

It remains to be seen if these duck boat companies are trying to wiggle their way out of legal obligations through obscure laws and delays, or if they will negotiate in good faith. Either way, this tragedy is a potent example of why attorneys are a huge help to plaintiffs trying to recover damages for the wrongful death of loved ones or severe injuries.


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We are dedicated to supporting families during the most challenging times, with a focus exclusively on cases involving catastrophic injuries or the loss of a loved one. Please reach out if you have any questions. We look forward to speaking with you.

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