Duck boat operators cite 1851 law to limit liability in accident that killed 17

A woman who lost nine family members when a duck boat sank in inclement weather on a Missouri lake over the summer is calling a court filing from the companies involved in the incident callous and insulting.

In a court filing Monday, attorneys for Ride the Ducks Branson and the company's owner, Ripley Entertainment, cited an 1851 maritime law that allows vessel owners to try to avoid or limit legal damages. They argued that the companies were not negligent during the incident, which left 17 people dead, and that if a court deemed otherwise, they have no liability because "the Vessel was a total loss and has no current value," the Indianapolis Star reported.

Tia Coleman, who was with several of her family members on the Ride the Ducks Branson boat when it sank on July 19, slammed the court filing in a statement.

Nine members of the Coleman family died in the incident on Table Rock Late, including Tia Coleman’s husband and three children between the ages of 1 and 9.

“Ripley’s legal claim that my husband and children are worthless is incredibly hurtful and insensitive,” Coleman said in a statement. “Anyone who cares about people or has any human decency should boycott Ripley and their attractions.”

Coleman and several others have filed suit against Ride the Ducks Branson and Ripley Entertainment seeking damages in the wake of the deadly incident on Table Rock Lake. An attorney for Coleman, Robert Mongeluzzi, called Monday’s filing from Ripley an “inhuman legal ploy (that) will sink as fast as their death trap duck boat did.”

“We will legally and factually demolish this frivolous claim," he said.

Ripley spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala-Potts said the type of filing made Monday is "common in claims related to maritime incidents." She said the goal is to delay the multiple court cases to give the parties time for mediation.

"We have reached out to those most impacted by the accident and offered to mediate their claims now," Smagala-Potts said in a statement. "Mediation often leads to faster resolution and allows those affected to avoid a lengthy process of litigation, and most importantly, begin the healing process."

Mongeluzzi said that, despite Ripley’s claim, “there have been no offers of settlement - none.”

“Ripley's claims of supporting these families are false,” he said.

At least 10 other lawsuits have been filed on behalf of other victims.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.