Judge Rules Maritime Law from 1851 Doesn’t Protect Duck Boat Owners

In a blow to the owners of Ride the Ducks, a federal judge has ruled that an 1851 law which would have capped damages for all claims to zero dollars does not apply in the Branson Duck Boat tragedy.

Judge Douglas Harpool ruled that Ride the Ducks International did not have standing as a prior owner of the vessel for the law to apply, as the law states the Shipowners Limitation of Liability Act applies to an “owner” of the vessel. The vessel was sold to Ripley Entertainment in December 2017.

The judge further ruled that Table Rock Lake does not meet the standard of a “navigable waterway” under the law. The judge cited a ruling by the Eighth Circuit that says Lake of the Ozarks it not a navigable waterway because navigability is not possible presently and that voids any claims of admiralty, such as under the 1851 law.

The judge noted that while two sides of the lake touch two different states, the “Court believes the test for contemporary navigability requires more than recreational boating and tourist activity” which is the overwhelming amount of activity on Table Rock Lake.

The Court went on to say in ruling against the motion that “Neither people nor goods are shipped across the lake as part of interstate commerce. No tug boats, barges or ferries operate on the lake and it would not be economically feasible for any to do so.”

Ripley Entertainment has settled all but one of the lawsuits brought against it as a result of the sinking of Stretch Duck 07 on July 19, 2018, resulting in the death of 17 of the 31 souls on board.

Three employees of Ripley’s are facing federal charges connected to the incident as prosecutors claim they ignored weather warnings and knew it was unsafe for the boat to be in the water.

Here is the judge’s ruling: