Bostonians once again have good reason to feel that their metropolis should rightly be called the City of Champions. Our Red Sox nearly swept the baseball playoffs, losing only once to our vaunted rival Yankees, once to the defending champion Houston Astros, and once to the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was the “Saux” fourth title in the young century, and the 11th pro title for Boston since 2001. As part of our “yearly” tradition, the Sox players, families, coaches, and officials were paraded in Duck boats from Landsdowne Street to just past City Hall. The Duck Boat parade has also been used to celebrate titles won by the Patriots and Bruins.

But what is a duck boat? And why is there controversy over their safe use?

Duck Boat Controversy

Duck boats are typically used as tourist vessels in waterfront cities like Boston, Branson, Missouri, Miami, San Diego, Seattle, Honolulu, Washington, and the Wisconsin Dells. Based on military sea vessels called DUKWs, these were amphibious crafts that carried troops into combat onto the shores of Normandy on D-Day. Persons in the tourist industry refined these vehicles to carry tourists on land and sea. However, the safety of these crafts has been in doubt for a number of years with a number of tragedies, the latest being in Branson, Missouri when a duck boat capsized on Table Rock Lake during a severe storm, drowning 17 people, including an entire family. The catastrophe once again ignited discussions about whether such sightseeing vessels should be allowed on the water or city streets at all.

Other duck boat accidents include one in 1999 where 13 people perished when the boat sank in a lake in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The National Transportation Safety Board that investigates such accidents blamed poor maintenance for that accident. In 2005, a duck boat on the streets of Seattle crashed into a bus, killing 5 students and injuring 69 others. The NTSB concluded that mechanical failure, poor maintenance, and the lack of seatbelts and poorly constructed seats were to blame for the accident. An axle failure on a duck boat on a Seattle street led to the death of 5 students in 2015.

Duck boats are to blame for 40 fatalities in the past 20 years, leading some safety advocates to call for a total ban on such vehicles. The Coast Guard and NTSB issue regulations governing these hybrids that safety advocates assert are confusing and allow for tour operators to interpret what they wish.

Tour operators are to blame for some of these accidents by failing to take measures to keep riders safe such as adding seat belts and failing to perform proper maintenance. Poor or inadequate visibility inherent in the craft’s design is another concern. For instance, a fatal accident on a Boston street in 2015 with a duck boat was blamed on the driver’s failure to see the victim who was on a motor scooter.

While our Red Sox players, officials, and their families may have been safely transported in the victory parade, perhaps these vessels should be retired once and for all. If you are thinking of a sight-seeing tour in Boston or any other city that offers duck boat tours, consider the checkered safety history of these crafts and seriously think about taking some other mode of tour transportation.

Liability for Duck Boat Accidents

Commercial Operators

If you or a family member was injured or killed on a duck boat, you have recourse against the tour operators who own and maintain these vessels. Duck boats are no different than tour buses. Since you are being transported for a fee, these are considered commercial vehicles, which imposes a high standard of care and responsibility for these companies to keep the vehicles and their passengers safe. If a safety regulation was violated, then the tour company can be held liable for any resulting injuries or fatalities.

Retaining a law firm with highly experienced Boston car accident lawyers is essential in such cases since there are competing agencies that regulate such vessels. Sifting through and interpreting these regulations and retaining experts to find liability is vital to keeping these companies accountable for your damages.

Since duck boats have such a poor safety record, tour operators should be on notice that these vehicles should be inspected and refined so that they are safe on the streets or waterways. This includes ensuring that the operators have sufficient visibility, that tires, steering, axles, and seats are maintained and that escape procedures if a problem arises at sea are in place. In the Branson, Missouri tragedy, officials opined that the vessel should not have been on the water at all since there was sufficient advance notice of a severe storm. In addition, passengers were apparently trapped on board when the vessel began to sink.

Waiver of Liability Issues

Even if you or your family member signed a waiver of liability, which is common in the industry, this may not necessarily affect your injury or wrongful death claim. A tour operator may not escape liability for gross negligence or if the factor that caused the accident was the result of willful or reckless indifference to your safety; or was a violation of a statutory duty.

A waiver may be otherwise valid if the operator made an unsafe lane change or failed to stop in time and rear-ended another vehicle. But the failure to provide safe seats, to allow the vessel to be on the water knowing that a severe storm was imminent, to have a boat that was not seaworthy or lacked any kind of escape procedures, could easily be construed as gross negligence.

Damages in Duck Boat Accidents

Damages in car or boat accident are similar. Typical damages include:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Past and future income loss
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Emotional trauma
  • Permanent disability or disfigurement
  • Pain and suffering
  • Spousal claim for loss of consortium

If a wrongful death claim, then the administrator for the decedent’s estate can bring an action on behalf of the immediate family members. Damages can include:

  • Medical expenses incurred before succumbing to injuries
  • Lost earnings over working lifetime of decedent
  • Value of lost household services
  • Pain and suffering of the decedent if he/she was observed to have visibly suffered before succumbing
  • Loss of the decedent’s love, companionship, guidance, and counsel
  • Punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct constituted willful or reckless indifference to the safety of the decedent

Retain Boston Car Accident Lawyer Paul Tetzel

Duck boat accidents can present difficult and challenging issues of liability and proof of damages. In such accidents, a Boston car accident lawyer who routinely handles complex cases can give you the best opportunity for you to obtain the most compensation for your claim. Contact attorney Paul Tetzel at (617) 933-3858 for a free consultation about your injury claim.