When news broke that 17 people, including children, died after a duck boat capsized in Branson, Missouri, it tragically did not come as a shock to lawyer Jeffrey Goodman.
“When I saw the headline, it was just more of the same,” Goodman, a partner at the Philadelphia-based law firm, Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky, tells PEOPLE. “This was predicted by the NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board]. They said it would happen again, and it did.”
The firm has long called for a ban on the popular amphibious vehicles — that can both drive on city streets and coast through water — as they have represented three people who died in two different duck boat-related accidents involving the company, Ride the Ducks, which also owns the vessel used in Thursday night’s tragedy.
Goodman represented the families of Dora Schwendter and Szabolcs Prem, two Hungarian students who drowned when their stalled duck boat, filled with 33 other passengers, was plowed into by a barge in the Delaware River. The suit was settled with the families and the two companies for $17 million before it moved on to a federal court jury.
Then, in May 2015, the firm represented the family of 68-year-old Elizabeth Karnicki, who was killed when she was run down by duck boat while crossing a street in Philadelphia with her husband. The firm filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Ride the Ducks, stating the hazardous design of the vehicle was to blame for the fatal accident. The case was later settled.
In another incident involving the company that same year, five people were killed and dozens injured in Seattle when their Ride the Ducks boat crashed into a charter bus, caused by an axle failure on the World War II-era vehicle, according to the Seattle Times. Goodman did not represent the victims in that crash.
The accidents all occurred prior to the Ride the Ducks company being purchased by the Ripley’s Entertainment Inc — which owns Ripley’s Believe or Not! Odditorium and other attractions. Ripley’s took over the company in December.
“Duck boats should outright be banned, whether on land or on water, they are unsafe in either situation,” Goodman tells PEOPLE. “On land, they are too wide for modern roadways, they don’t have the maneuverability of vehicles, and they have massive blind spots because it has a bow, since it’s a boat. The operator sits so far behind that the blind spots are huge.”
While these problems with maneuverability remain even when the vessel is in water, one of the most dangerous aspects of a duck boat, Goodman says, is its trademark canopy.
“On water, there is a variety of problems,” he explains. “It doesn’t have the maneuverability of a normal vessel, it sits lower in the water, which makes it more prone to sinking, and it has these canopies over top.”
As it restricts the avenues of escape for passengers, a seemingly innocuous canopy can turn into a deadly snare when a duck boat capsizes.
“When you have this canopy overhead, if the boat sinks, and you are wearing your life jacket, you get trapped,” Goodman says. “As the boat goes down, the canopy goes with it, and where, normally, the life jacket would bring you to the top, when that happens, you’re met by the canopy at surface, and you become trapped and it drags you down.”
He adds: “Duck boats are death traps, and with the canopies, they are sinking coffins.”
The dangers of duck boats have been apparent long before the accidents in Philadelphia and Branson. In 1999, “Miss Majestic,” a duck boat built by the U.S. Army in 1944, sank just seven minutes into its trip into Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Thirteen of the boat’s 21 passengers died, including three children.
Three years later, the NTSB released a report concerning the incident that warned about duck boat canopies and recommended for their removal. Twenty years later, a similar canopy seems to have been used on the duck boat that capsized in Branson.
In a statement on social media, Ride the Ducks said they will “assist the families who were involved” in Thursday night’s tragedy, and they will cease operations while an investigation continues.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic accident that occurred at Ride The Ducks Branson. This incident has deeply affected all of us. Words cannot convey how profoundly our hearts are breaking,” the statement reads. We will continue to do all we can to assist the families who were involved. The safety of our guests and employees is our number one priority. Ride the Ducks will be closed for business while we support the investigation, and to allow time to grieve for the families and the community.”
Following the latest tragedy, Goodman hopes cities will reconsider allowing duck boats to operate in their waters and streets.
“The duck boat industry responds to accidents like this by arguing the boats are good for tourism in your cities,” he says. “That’s their sales pitch. But, you don’t promote tourism by killing your tourists.”