Philadelphia, PA (April 30, 2012) – A non-jury trial begins Monday, May 7, in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia regarding the civil wrongful death case (C.A. No. 10-5750 and C.A. No. 11-79) resulting from the July 7, 2010 collision between a tourist duck boat and an empty sludge barge, that claimed the lives of two young Hungarian student-visitors on a local church-sponsored sightseeing ride.
Killed by drowning were Dora Schwendtner, 16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20, whose parents will be in the courtroom for opening arguments before U.S. District Court Judge Thomas N. O’Neill. Before appearing in court, they will place memorial wreaths in the Delaware River near the site of the accident in which their only children, among the 35 passengers on the retrofitted World War II-era landing craft, perished.
Other parties in the trial, expected to last four weeks, include K-Sea Transportation Partners (KSP-NYSE) owner-operator of the the M/V Caribbean Sea tugboat, which was pushing The Resource, a 250-foot barge, upriver, Ride the Ducks International, LLC, a Georgia-based company, and subsidiary of Herschend Family Entertainment, that owned, maintained, and operated the 33-foot amphibious tour boat (DUKW 34). Both parties are claiming that under an archaic 1851 Federal maritime limitation of liability law, their total liability should be capped at the value of the vessels involved in the accident. K-Sea estimates the value of the tug at $1.65 million, and Ride the Ducks asserts $150,000 in total liability based on the value of the salvaged duck boat.
The evidence to be presented at trial will conclusively establish that this accident was not a freak unpredictable occurrence, but occurred because of multiple egregious failures of K-Sea and Ride the Ducks to properly train their employees and to have adequate policies and procedures in place. Tugboat First Mate, Matt Devlin’s cell phone use that day, which distracted him from adequately looking out for the disabled duck boat, was not an aberrational event. In fact, Devlin has testified on videotape that will be presented at trial that he used his cell phone while on every watch during his 10 years employed by K-Sea. The evidence will establish that every person on the tugboat routinely and consistently violated K-Sea’s cell phone policies and that management knew of such violations and did nothing to deter them.
The evidence will also establish that Ride the Ducks employed an incompetent mechanic who in his first time performing a post-trip inspection alone, the night before the accident, left the radiator cap off of the boat’s engine. It was that failure that led the engine to overheat and Captain Gary Fox to incorrectly believe there was a fire on board and to make the fateful decision to shut down the vessel in an active shipping channel. Ride the Ducks’ other systemic failures include their failure to instruct their passengers to don their life preservers until it was too late, the design of the boat with canopies that trapped the two young students and drowned them, the failure to have a Coast Guard required anchor ball which would have alerted First Mate Devlin that the boat was broken down at an anchor when he first saw it from a mile away, and their failure to equip the boat with an emergency air horn and radio. Captain Fox had complained to ride the Ducks about five years before the accident about these lapses and he was totally ignord.
Trial counsel for the claimants is the law firm of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky and the law firm of Ronai and Ronai. SM&B’s Robert J. Mongeluzzi, Andrew R. Duffy, and Jeffrey P. Goodman will be appearing on behalf of SM&B; Holly Ostrov Ronai and Peter Ronai are the co-counsel on behalf of Ronai and Ronai. The trial is expected to last for approximately four weeks during which more than two-dozen witnesses for the claimants may be called. A number of filed documents regarding the case can be found at www.duckboatdisaster.com.