The parents of two students who died in a July 2010 boat accident settled their wrongful death lawsuit a few days into its trial in a Philadelphia federal court. The lawsuit included eighteen survivors from the accident, which occurred on the Delaware River when a city-owned barge collided with a tour boat. The plaintiffs had faced a possible cap on damages for their claims in the lawsuit based on federal maritime law. The parties reached a settlement at the urging of the judge.
The accident occurred in July 2010 on a stretch of the Delaware River in view of downtown Philadelphia. Thirty-seven passengers and crew were on board an amphibious duck boat, a vehicle that can drive on land and in water, commonly used for sightseeing tours. The duck boat had overheated due to a misplaced radiator cap. In the 103-degree heat, the duck boat’s captain reportedly thought the steam off the engine was fire. The captain dropped anchor immediately, leaving the boat stranded in a busy channel.
At the same time, an eighty-yard barge pushed by a tug was coming through the channel.The tugboat captain reportedly had a family emergency and was busy on his cellphone. He moved to a part of the tugboat where he could not see the river. He therefore failed to see the barge bearing down on the duck boat. The barge collided with the duck boat, causing it to capsize. Two passengers, 16 year-old Dora Schwendtner and 20 year-old Szabolcs Prem, both students from Hungary, died in the collision. Twenty-six passengers were injured. The tugboat captain is now serving a one-year prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter.
The parents of Schwendtner and Prem, along with eighteen survivors, sued K-Sea Transportation, which operated the tugboat; Ride the Ducks, which ran the tour boat; and the city of Philadelphia, which owned the barge. The lawsuit claimed that K-Sea’s employees were negligent in failing to prevent or avoid the collision. It claimed that Ride the Ducks was negligent for failing to advise passengers to put on life preservers until just before the collision, for failing to equip the boat with an emergency air horn or radio, and for a poor boat design that allegedly trapped both victims underwater.
The plaintiffs originally filed their lawsuit in Pennsylvania state court, but the defendants removed it to federal court. The defendants claimed that federal maritime law imposed strict limits on their liability, based solely on the value of their vessels. Ride the Ducks claimed that their liability could not exceed $150,000, and K-Sea claimed their maximum liability was $1.5 million.
The trial began on Monday, May 7, 2012. Schwendtner and Prem’s parents came from Hungary to attend the trial. Plaintiffs’ attorneys showed a video of the collision, in which the barge ran over the duck boat. Schwendter appears in the video, tossing a life jacket to someone who had jumped from the boat, just before the two vessels collided. By Tuesday, the judge asked attorneys to attempt a settlement. On Wednesday, they announced a $17 million settlement. Schwendtner and Prem’s families will receive $15 million, and the eighteen survivors in the suit will split $2 million.
The Maryland accident injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen are skilled at pursuing justice for people injured in boating accidents in Maryland waters. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation.
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11 Maryland Boating Accident Deaths Reported to Date for 2011, Maryland Accident Law Blog, June 15, 2011
Maryland Boating Accident: Teenager Seriously Hurt While Trying to Dock a Personal Watercraft, Maryland Accident Law Blog, June 7, 2009