What Does Maritime Law Say about Recent Duck Boat Accident?

Millions of people around the world have seen headlines about the duck boat that capsized on Table Rock Lake in Missouri.  With 17 deaths and numerous injuries, headlines now question – “what does maritime law say about the duck boat accident?” Could the victims and their loved ones pursue compensation? Let’s review the accident and take a look at what maritime law has to say.

If you have questions about maritime law, or have been injured in an accident as a passenger or employee of a maritime vessel, contact Brown & Brothers to find out more about your legal rights.  Maritime law is a specific area of personal injury law, and you deserve to know what your individual situation could mean for your chances of pursuing compensation.

Missouri Duck Boat Accident Information

Table Rock Lake is located near Branson, MO – a popular vacation spot only 200 miles from Kansas City.  One of the most popular attractions at Table Rock Lake is the “Ride the Ducks” boat ride.  On Thursday July 19, 2018 dozens of people boarded the duck boats for what should have been a fun adventure.  For the 31 people onboard one boat, however, it became a nightmare.

According to reports, a storm hit the area and caused high winds and massive waves to develop.  Two duck boats full of passengers attempted to navigate back to shore, but only one made it.  One of the boats took on water and eventually capsized.  17 people died in the accident and numerous others were injured.

Following the accident, investigators enlisted the help of a barge crane, water pumps, and divers to retrieve the duck boat from the bottom of the lake.  According to reports, the boat came to rest on the bottom of the lake, under about 80 feet of water.

The ages of the individuals who died in the accident range from one to 76.  Several families onboard together lost loved ones.  One survivor has recounted the ordeal, including the deaths of three children and her husband who were with her when the accident occurred.  According to a witness, when her husband’s body was found, he had all three children with him.

Investigating Deadly Boat Capsize

Like most accidents of this proportion, the investigation into this duck boat capsize will likely take some time.  There are numerous factors that investigators must consider as they reconstruct the boat and the events leading up to it sinking.  Some of these issues include:

  • When did the captain know about the weather forecast and severe storm warning?
  • When did the captain decide to alter the planned route, and what led to that decision?
  • What actions did the crew take during the storm to prevent injuries?
  • Could life jackets have made a difference?
  • Did the crew have access to weather reports onboard?
  • Did the design of the boat canopy make it difficult for passengers to escape from underneath?

Law enforcement reported that none of the people who died were wearing life jackets when their bodies were found.  Officials stated that life jackets were on the boat, but passengers were not required to wear them.

Another factor that investigators are looking into is the design, structure, and operation of the boat itself.  CNN reported that in August 2017, a mechanical inspector found that the duck boat had a problem with its exhaust.  Rather than the exhaust being emitted from the back of the boat, beyond the passenger compartment, the exhaust was emitting from the front of the boat.  According to the Department of Transportation, such an issue would not pass regulations.

The mechanical inspector further noted that with the exhaust system in the front of the boat, as the unusually high waves hit the boat, water would be pushed up into the exhaust system, potentially causing the engine to be disrupted or eventually fail altogether.

Are Duck Boats Really Safe?

Duck boats are unique, as they are made as replicas of the amphibious vehicles used during World War II.  They have wheels for land use, and can be driven into the water as a water craft.  Because they are both land and water vehicles, they are regulated by two agencies – the Coast Guard and the Department of Transportation.  Both agencies have regulations, but unfortunately, regulations and consistency between the two agencies are often “disconnected” when it comes to the duck boats.

Over the past few decades, many engineers and boat designers have augmented the original design of the duck boat.  Of particular note is the fact that the owner of the Ride the Ducks boats used on Table Rock Lake altered the design in the 1980’s, and the boats were “stretched” by 15 inches by the 1990’s.  Media sources have noted that the individual who designed the stretched model does not have education or experience in engineering or mechanics.  His redesign of the boats was based on personal experience with mechanics.

The boat that capsized on Table Rock Lake recently was one of the newer designs.  Investigators will work to determine if the design of the boat was a factor in the capsizing and sinking.  The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is considering the design and previous concerns about safety, and has specifically identified this boat as a “stretch” model.

Maritime Law Considerations

Following the duck boat accident, a popular online news source published an article about the nuances of maritime law and what legal issues the victims and their loved ones face.  The article mentions that the victims and survivors could potentially be entitled to millions of dollars, or simply a piece of the shipwreck.  What the victims and their families may be entitled to depends on several factors that will be investigated, and must be proven if a lawsuit is filed.

The owner of the duck boat may attempt to claim limited liability for the accident, which could limit the ability of victims to obtain compensation from him or her.  Limited liability may be established if:

  • The owner of the duck boat can prove that the vessel was completely seaworthy as established by law
  • The owner had no way or reason for knowing that the storm was a danger

The limited liability may be broken if the victims can prove that:

  • The vessel was not seaworthy
  • The owner or operator did not do their due diligence
  • That the owner or operator was negligent in maintaining the safety of the vessel

Part of establishing duty, liability, and damages will depend on the individual facts of your case, as well as applicable laws.  In most vessel sinking cases, the Jones Act and the Death on the High Seas Act allow victims and their loved ones to pursue compensation.

To learn more about your legal rights and what options you may have, contact Brown & Brothers to speak with one of our maritime injury attorneys.  Fill out our online form to schedule your free injury consultation.

 

 

Sources:

https://www.businessinsider.com/victims-of-capsized-missouri-boat-entitled-to-millions-or-just-debris-2018-7

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2018/07/26/self-taught-businessman-with-no-engineering-credentials-designed-missouri-duck-boat-records-say/?utm_term=.1b9bc51716df

https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/24/us/missouri-duck-boat-investigation/index.html