Judge rules 1851 law doesn’t apply in Missouri duck boat case

A Branson duck boat is pulled from the bottom of Table Rock Lake on July 23, 2018, after sinking and killing 17 people.

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A federal judge has ruled that an 1851 maritime law does not protect a company from making payments to families of people aboard a tourist boat that sank on a Missouri lake, killing 17 people.

After the July 2018 sinking at Table Rock Lake near Branson, multiple lawsuits were filed against Ride the Ducks International, which owned the boat before Ripley Entertainment bought it.

The two companies asked U.S. District Judge Doug Harpool last year to uphold the 1851 Shipowners Limitation of Liability Act, a moved that stunned a surviving family member. This would mean damages due to survivors or relatives of those who drowned could be capped by the company at no more than the value of the sunken boat.

Since the boat was a total loss, that would make the damages total zero dollars.

The family’s attorney, Robert J. Mongeluzzi, predicted the judge would not uphold this 168-year-old law.

“Ripley’s inhuman legal ploy will sink as fast as their death trap duck boat did,” he said before the ruling. “We will legally and factually demolish this frivolous claim.

The Springfield News-Leader reports that Harpool ruled Friday the law doesn’t apply, in part because Table Rock Lake is not considered a “navigable waterway” under federal law.

Ripley said in a statement that said it has been doing everything it could for the 14 survivors and the relatives of the deceased.

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