KANSAS CITY, Mo., Sept. 4, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Tia Coleman, whose husband and their three children drowned in the Branson, Missouri duck boat disaster, today filed a lawsuit against the corporations responsible for operating the death trap boats in a widely predicted severe storm. The lawsuit was filed in Federal court here and names as plaintiffs: Tia Coleman, 34, her husband, Glenn Coleman, 40, daughter Arya Coleman,1, and sons Evan Coleman, 7, and Reece Coleman, 9. Mrs. Coleman's husband and children were among the nine family relatives that died on July 19th in the catastrophe that killed 16 passengers and one crewmember. The boat carried 29 passengers.
Mrs. Coleman noted, "Ripley Entertainment, through its spokesperson, has repeatedly claimed that they are supportive of the families. If they really supported the families, they never would have put us into what they knew were dangerous duck boats in the face of an oncoming storm. We trusted them and they took our children, husbands, fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers , brothers , sisters, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and friends. The only thing we want to hear from them is: Ripley's is sorry, it's our fault, and we won't put another duck boat in the water until we comply with the safety recommendations that were made by a federal agency in 2002."
Mrs. Coleman said filing the lawsuit is part of her efforts to hold all of those responsible for the July 19th catastrophe on Table Rock Lake fully accountable. "I know that nothing can ever bring back my family, but I hope that through the justice system – and citizen action to ban deadly duck boats – we can spare other families the kind of unimaginable pain and heartbreak I live with every day. These boats can never be allowed to kill again."
Accordingly, the complaint demands that the defendants "immediately cease the manufacturing and operation of all Duck Boats in the United States and abroad…and support the efforts to ensure that all others in the Duck Boat industry cease operations until Duck Boats are made unsinkable and their canopies are removed".
Recently, Mrs. Coleman launched an online petition (Ban The Ducks) urging Congress and the Untied States Coast Guard to ban hazardous duck boats . "I am grateful to the thousands who are supporting a permanent ban on duck boats that killed my whole family and dozens of others over the past 20 years, and support Senate bill 3301 (Sen. McCaskill Boat Safety Bill)
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Missouri recently confirmed that it has an active criminal investigation into the incident, stating in a court filing that Ripley Entertainment is a "target" or "subject" of the investigation, and that "several Ripley agents, employees, or officers have been identified as targets and/or subjects of the Government action."
The Missouri state Attorney General's office also recently filed a complaint in state court against Ripley Entertainment. The Attorney General stated at the time that the company "put profits ahead of safety" and should not be permitted to restart its operations of "unsafe duck boats".
Tia Coleman's complaint (Tia Coleman, Glenn Coleman, Reece Coleman, Evan, Coleman, Arya Coleman v. Ripley Entertainment, Inc. D/B/A Ride the Ducks International, et al., In The United States District Court, Western District of Missouri, 6:18-cv-03280) was filed by the law firms of Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett, & Bendesky, P.C. (SMBB) and Aleshire, Robb, P.C.,
Robert J. Mongeluzzi, of SMBB, stated, "In 2002 the NTSB warned the duck boat industry to remove the canopies from their duck boats because they trap and drown passengers when the duck boat sinks. Instead of following their recommendations, they exposed their passengers to the very hazard they were told to correct - killing them."
The complaint details Mrs. Coleman's harrowing experience as her husband and children, along with relatives Horace "Butch" Coleman, 70, Belinda "Toni" Coleman, 69, Ervin "Uncle Ray" Coleman, 76, Angela 'Angiee' Coleman, 45 and her son, Maxwell 2 , died in the water on what was supposed to have been a fun-filled family ride. Only Tia Coleman and Donovan Coleman (Tia's 13-year-old nephew, Angela's eldest son) survived among the Coleman Family members that boarded the duck boat in the early evening. They had gathered in the city of Branson, a popular tourist-entertainment destination, on their annual multi-generational reunion vacation.
Defendant Ripley Entertainment, Inc., the Orlando-based subsidiary of Canada's Jim Pattison Group, Inc., owns the duck boat company, and refers to itself as the "the largest and fastest-growing international chain of walk through tourist attractions in the entire world." Its collection of global brands includes Ripley's Believe It or Not!, Ripley's Aquariums, and Guinness World Records. It features more than 100 attractions throughout 11 countries.
Ride the Ducks International previously owned the Branson operation and sold it to Ripley's last December. They are one of the nation's largest duck boat operators and manufactured the duck boat with the canopies that the NTSB had concluded were hazards to their passengers.
The complaint details the incidents in which 42 people have been killed by duck boats since 1999 and the industry's reckless disregard of the safety of its passengers.
Attorney Andrew R. Duffy, of SMBB stated that, "Defendant Ripley's intentionally switched the order of the land and water segments of the tour in an outrageous and reckless effort to beat a predicted approaching severe thunderstorm rather than refunding their passengers' tickets . This was a clear violation of the terms of its Coast Guard permits which specifically prohibited operating in conditions with forecasted winds over 35 mph. Multiple forecasts were for winds in excess of 65 mph. Mr. Duffy, cited portions of the complaint that details Ripley's litany of safety lapses. "It was an indefensible violation – utter defiance – of Coast Guard regulations for that duck boat," he added.
Attorney Jeffrey P. Goodman of SMBB noted that Jim Pattison, Jr., the head of Ripley's Entertainment, admitted on CBS This Morning on July 20th that the duck boat "shouldn't have been in the water." Mr. Goodman said that Pattison has started to walk back his earlier admission. "It's hurtful to the families for Ripley's to retract their admission of their obvious failures" he said.
Robert J. Mongeluzzi said, "Rather than engaging experts before the disaster to make their duck boat safe, Ripley's instead killed 17 and then hired a public relations and crisis communication expert to help with their public image. If only they were as concerned with public safety before the disaster as they are with public relations after the disaster."
The defendants named in the complaint are:
- Ripley Entertainment, Inc. – Orlando, FL
- Ride the Ducks International LLC – Jefferson City, MO
- Ride the Ducks of Branson, LLC – Branson, MO
- Branson Duck Vehicles, LLC – Branson, MO
- Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation – Branson, MO
- Amphibious Vehicle Manufacturing, LLC. – Branson, MO
The Tia Coleman family is also represented by Gregory Aleshire, Esq., of Aleshire, P.C., Robb & Rapp.
SOURCE Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett, & Bendesky, P.C.