$100M Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Over Branson Duck Boat Accident

A federal lawsuit seeking at least $100 million has been filed by relatives of two family members that were killed when a duck boat sank on Table Rock lake during a thunderstorm July 19 near Branson, Missouri. 

Five children were among the 17 people killed, authorities said, when the customized duck boat capsized, another 14 people were injured. 

"Duck Boats are death traps for passengers and pose grave danger to the public on water and on land," the estates of Irvin Coleman, 76, and 2-year-old Maxwell Coleman-Ly said in a suit filed Sunday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri in the Southern Division.

"This tragedy was the predictable and predicted result of decades of unacceptable, greed-driven, and willful ignorance of safety by the Duck Boat industry in the face of specific and repeated warnings that their Duck Boats are death traps for passengers and pose grave danger to the public on water and on land," the suit says.

Robert McDowell, the man who designed the duck boats is specifically called out in the lawsuit, with the filing pointing to his lack of engineering experience. 

"Prior to killing seventeen people in Branson, injuring fourteen others, and ruining the lives of countless more, Defendants had been told that design flaws in the Duck Boats made them more susceptible to sinking," the suit said.

"Robert McDowell’s design was based entirely upon conversations with a high school football coach who previously co-owned the Ride the Ducks business," the lawsuit read.

The lawsuit also says the company knew about the dangers presented by the weather and that the captain did not follow company policy and tell passengers to put on their life jackets. Instead, the captain lowered plastic side curtains, which contributed to "further entrapping passengers in the soon-to-sink vessel." 

Another factor was "the natural buoyancy of the passengers’ bodies forced them into the overhead canopy, which acted like a net to entrap them and to prevent their vertical escape," the National Transportation Safety Board said. 

"The investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board is still underway," Smagala said in an email. "No conclusions have been reached, and we cannot comment at this time."

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Maxwell Coleman-Ly and Irvin Colemnan, Max's great-uncle. 

Max's mother, Angela, 45, his grandparents, Horace, 70, and Belinda, 69, his Uncle Glenn, 40, and his cousins, Reece, 9, Evan, 7, and Arya, 1, also died. The only family members to survive were Tia Coleman and her nephew Donavan, 13. 

Photo: Getty Images

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