Family members of victims from Branson duck boat disaster reach settlement

Relatives of Ervin and Horace Coleman, brothers who were among the 17 people who died last year when a duck boat sank on Table Rock Lake, have reached a settlement with the operator of the Ride the Ducks business in Branson.

Lawyers for the Colemans last week filed a notice of settlement with Ripley Entertainment. The settlement follows a mediation session that occurred in January.

Ernesto Sigmon, a Dallas attorney for the relatives of Ervin and Horace Coleman, could not discuss the settlement.

“The actual terms of it are under seal,” he said.

Ride The Ducks Branson has continued to mediate proactively with those most impacted by the accident that occurred on July 19, 2018,” said Suzanne Smagala-Potts, a Ripley Entertainment spokeswoman, in a statement. “This process often leads to faster resolution and allows those affected to avoid a lengthy process of litigation. At this point, we have reached court-approved settlements with several families of the victims and are actively pursuing mediated resolutions with all others who were affected by the accident. Out of respect for the privacy of the families, we are not discussing settlement details.”

Ervin and Horace Coleman were among nine members of the same family who died when the duck boat sank on Table Rock Lake.

Horace was accompanied by his entire immediate family: his wife, Belinda Coleman; children Angela and Glenn, and four of their grandchildren all died. His daughter-in-law, Tia, and grandson Donovan, survived.

It is the second settlement arising from the July 19, 2018, disaster. In November, the adult daughters of William and Janice Bright of Higginsville, Mo., reached confidential settlements with Ripley Entertainment. The Brights were celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary when they died on the fatal duck boat ride.

The Ride the Ducks operation, which takes tourists on and around Table Rock Lake on amphibious, World War II-era vehicles, has faced a battery of litigation since last year, and several lawsuits remain pending in federal and state court.

Ripley Entertainment, which bought the Ride the Ducks business in Branson late in 2017, is accused of ignoring warnings of severe weather the evening of July 19. A storm with winds exceeding 70 miles per hour battered a duck boat with 31 people on board before it sank in Table Rock Lake.

The duck boat industry for years has been criticized for not making safety improvements that were recommended following a 1999 duck boat catastrophe that killed 13 people in Arkansas.

In addition to the lawsuits, the captain of the sunken duck boat, Kenneth Scott McKee, faces a federal criminal charge of admiralty misconduct. He has pleaded not guilty.

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Steve Vockrodt is an award-winning investigative journalist who has reported in Kansas City since 2005. Areas of reporting interest include business, politics, justice issues and breaking news investigations. Vockrodt grew up in Denver and studied journalism at the University of Kansas.