Duck Boat Tragedy on Table Rock Lake, Missouri

Stretch Duck 7, a tourist Duck Boat owned by Ripley Entertainment capsized and sunk in Table Rock Lake, Missouri on July 19, 2018, killing 17 of 31 people on board.  Here are some of our initial thoughts on the potential liability and legal issues in the case.

Liability Issues:

Failure to monitor developing weather and heed severe thunderstorm warning

This is very similar to one of the issues from the 2015 SS El Faro sinking in which 33 lives were lost.  Kreindler was deeply involved in this case in which the captain and vessel owner failed to properly monitor and avoid Hurricane Joaquin.

Failure to cancel the voyage or issue a timely recall

Failure to have sufficient life jackets and/or to timely instruct the passengers to don them.

Duck boat design is inappropriate as a passenger tour boat

It’s a WW II design that was originally intended to transport troops from a troop carrier vessel to the shore, often for just a one-time use. It was never intended for repeated commercial tour boat purposes.

It is essentially a floating bath tub susceptible to flooding in anything but calm water and includes a canopy that inhibits emergency egress once the boat is flooded or capsized.

As a result of the canopy, the vessel has a high center of gravity which makes it prone to capsize, particularly in wind.

This is a similar issue as a previous Kreindler case - the 2005 sinking of the tourist boat, Ethan Allen in Lake George, NY. In that tragedy,  overloading and a high canopy created a capsize hazard in a wave/wake situation.

Legal issues:

Whether Table Rock Lake is considered "navigable waters" of the United States will be an important issue in any lawsuit. Generally, where a lake like Table Rock Lake spans two states, here Missouri and Arkansas, it is considered navigable waters. However, in 1984, a federal court determined that Table Rock Lake was not navigable waters. However, because of the way that case was presented to the federal court, the fact that Table Rock Lake is also in Arkansas was never fully considered by the federal court. Therefore, whether Table Rock Lake is legally considered "navigable waters"remains an important issue in this case.

If Table Rock Lake were to be deemed "navigable waters", the vessel owner could try to invoke a 1871 rule called the Limitation of Liability Act and claim that it’s legal liability can be no more than the value of the Duck Boat after the capsizing. Clearly, the value of Duck Boat, even in a new condition, would be significantly less than the multi-million dollar verdicts which would surely result. If the owner is successful in asserting the Limitation of Liability defense, it would essentially excuse the owner from fairly compensating the families - a tragedy heaped upon tragedy.