Owner Settles First Lawsuit With Missouri Family in Fatal Branson Duck Boat Sinking

The owner of the Branson duck boat that sank in July, killing 17, has settled its first lawsuit with the family of a Missouri couple who died, according to a lawyer involved in the case.

William Bright, 65, and Janice Bright, 63, from Higginsville, Mo., were on Stretch Duck 07 when it struggled in stormy waters and then went down on July 19. The Brights were visiting Branson to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary.

The couple’s three adult daughters – Michelle Chaffer, Rebekah Whittington and Christina Taylor – filed the suit in late July, contending that four plaintiffs were negligent in their parents’ deaths. They pointed to Ride the Ducks International LLC; Ripley Entertainment Inc., which owns the Branson Ride the Ducks; the captain of the vessel, Kenneth Scott McKee; and its driver on land, Robert Williams, who died when the boat sank.

Adam Graves, one of the attorneys for the daughters, said the settlement between the three and Ripley Entertainment was finalized Thursday night.

“Our people are satisfied,” Graves said. “They felt like they were really genuine in what they were doing. … One of the first things Ripley said when they came into mediation was, ‘We are a family company, and we value family.'”

The Bright family lawsuit is one of several involving the duck boat sinking that have been filed in state or federal courts. Graves said the terms of the Bright settlement were confidential.

The daughters and their attorneys argued that the company and the operators of the boat had fair warning that a storm was approaching when the boat entered Table Rock Lake at 6:55 p.m., some 20 minutes after the National Weather Service had issued a severe storm warning for the area.

The lawsuit was originally filed in Taney County but was moved to Stone County last week. The boat sank in Stone County, just over the county line.

Graves said the settlement on Thanksgiving night was only with Ripley. The three others named in the lawsuit will remain defendants.

Ripley spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala-Potts told The Star in an email early Friday that she hoped to have a statement about the settlement later in the day.

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SOURCE: The Kansas City Star, Judy L. Thomas and Laura Bauer