For many Tennesseans, duck boat tours are a staple of summer vacation fun and a great way to show visiting friends and family the sights. The Chattanooga Duck Boat tour, for example, provides a one-hour trip around the city's waterfront on the Tennessee River.
Many other people had never heard of duck boats until the tragic accident that claimed the lives of 17 people in Missouri recently. A duck boat owned by the company Ride The Ducks, located in Branson, sank in Table Rock Lake during a storm. Nine of the people who died were members of the same family.
The family is now suing the company in a $100 million wrongful death action. The suit points to, among other things, the poor design of the boats and the failure of those operating them that day to heed warnings of dangerous weather.
This tragedy and the subsequent legal action have brought to light a history of fatal duck boat incidents involving other duck boat operators. The suit lists six previous incidents that claimed the lives of 26 people.
Nearly 20 years ago, in 1999, a boat named Miss Majestic sank during a trip in Arkansas. Thirteen people were killed. Lawyers for the family in the Missouri duck boat tragedy say that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) warned back then that the canopies on these boats pose an "unacceptable risk" to those on board. The NTSB is still investigating the Missouri incident.
The Chattanooga Duck Boat is described as a "restored World War Two landing craft can travel on land and in the water, allowing you to experience both the streets and Tennessee River up close."
A boat ride along the riverfront may seem like a relaxing way to spend part of a summer day, and in most cases it is. However, owners and operators of all types of tourist attractions — particularly those that travel on the water — owe it to passengers to take all reasonable precautions to ensure their safety.
They also need to be prepared to make the decision not to go out on the water if there's the possibility of a storm — even if they lose some money that day. When negligence, recklessness or poor judgment cause injuries or death, victims and their families can and should explore their potential legal options for making their lives as whole as possible once again.