Often, tragedies compel reactions that may have otherwise been avoided. When this occurs, there are questions about who should be responsible for the safety lapse that led to the accident. On July 20, 2018, 17 people were killed while riding on “duck boats” in Branson, Missouri. One of the boats capsized while on the water during a storm. Tragically, 17 people lost their lives in the incident. None of the victims were wearing life jackets at the time.
After the accident, people questioned the safety of the boats, which are popular tourist attractions in various places in the country, and questioned who was responsible for the accident. A subsequent investigation revealed that the passengers were not wearing life jackets, though sufficient life jackets were available. Was this an issue? Is the captain responsible for taking the boat out during a storm? Should the owners of the boat be responsible?
Duck Boats are vehicles that are usable on both land and sea. The US Military used these vehicles during World War II and again during the Korean War. Their durability and land/sea use made them a valuable tool to the army. Because they are mobile on land and sea they were referred to as “ducks,” as an analogy to ducks that are comfortably mobile on both land and sea. However, while at sea, the vehicles had little protection, so they were referred to as “sitting” ducks.
Sometime after the Korean War, the Military decided that it no longer wanted to use the ducks and sold them. Private companies bought these vehicles as a tourist enterprise wherein the vehicle provides a tour on both land and sea. A driver/captain can show tourists around an area on land and then provide the same group a sea experience from the same vehicle.
Eventually, the “duck tours” caught on all over the place. Cities like Boston, Philadelphia, Memphis, and Branson all have duck boat tours. The tragedy in Branson occurred during one of these duck tours.
Limited Liability Act
Section 183 of the Federal Limited Liability Act provides that the owner of a boat is responsible for he boat bring reasonably safe for passengers. An owner is not responsible to provide a boat that is “absolutely” safe. Under this standard, it might be sufficient for a boat owner to supply passengers with access to life jackets and rafts in the event the boat capsizes. If the passengers know that they can access these items all the time, then it may be on the passengers to decide if they want to utilize these items.
While the captain is most likely responsible for putting the passengers in a difficult, life-threatening situation, it is unlikely to be the owner’s fault with respect to the actual tragedy.
Have you been hurt in a maritime accident? You need an aggressive advocate that understands federal maritime law. Contact the Kolodny law firm, maritime accident victim attorneys.