Fatal Duck Boat Accident Lawsuit in Philadelphia Reaches $15 Million Settlement

(May 13, 2012) Two Hungarian tourists died in horrific accident while visiting the USA. A $15 million settlement was reached on Wednesday, involving the wrongful-death trial filed as the result of the deadly Philadelphia duck boat crash that occurred two years ago. Eighteen surviving passengers will share $2 million in the settlement, approved by a judge after just two days of testimony, days after trial had begun, which was expected to last a month.

The victims’ families were returning to Hungary, unaware that a settlement had been reached, but their attorney said that they were “deeply grateful to the court for recognizing their children were important and did not deserve to die in vain.” Dora Schwendtner, 16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20, were visiting the U.S. on a church exchange program, and both drowned when their amphibious sightseeing “duck boat” collided into an empty sludge barge and capsized on July 7, 2010. Their families filed the wrongful-death suits against K-Sea Transportation, of East Brunswick, N.J., which operated the tugboat guiding the barge upriver, and Ride the Ducks, of Norcross, Ga., which operated the tugboat. Both families will split the $15 million settlement.

Their attorney said that “the families told us from the outset that they had a duty to honor their children and to do what they could to ensure that the lives of other children were not put at risk by unsafe operators of tourist boats, barges, or tugboats.”

On the first day of trial on Monday, the victims showed video footage that showed Schwendtner throwing a life jacket to a deckhand who jumped from the boat seconds before the collision and survived. The tug pushed the 250-foot-long barge into and over the 33-foot-long duck boat as it was anchored in an active shipping lane along its route, sending 37 people into the river roughly 150 feet from the Philadelphia shoreline.

A passing ferry boat, bystanders who swam from shore, and firefighters were among those who rushed to the scene to help the injured; however, not everybody escaped unharmed. K-Sea Transportation and duck boat operator Ride the Ducks blame each other. The tug pilot, Matthew Devlin, was sentenced in November to a year in prison for the crash. On his cellphone with a family emergency, Devlin moved to a part of the tug blocked from the view of the river, as well as turning down a maritime radio, and ignoring mayday calls before the collision. He pleaded guilty to the maritime equivalent of involuntary manslaughter.

The victims’ attorney also added that while their suffering continues, “they have renewed hope in the American justice system and that stricter regulations on cellphone use and tourist boat operating procedures might avert similar catastrophes on and off the water.” The company suspended its Philadelphia tours after the accident, but resumed them the following spring with a shortened water route. Recall that we recently blogged about a similar duck boat incident in Seattle that resulted in severe injuries, however, nobody died.

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