Herschend Family Corporation (HFE) Cited in Wrongful Death Lawsuit

The Herschend Family qualifies as Branson royalty. The flagship themepark "Silver Dollar City" which sits 15 miles from Branson is the largest traffic generator to the Branson area.
Controversy surfaced as efforts to fend off Knott's Berry Farm from investing in Branson several years ago. The fight was over the purchase of a theme park most recently operated by Herschend Family Entertainment (HFE) re-named "Celebration City".
Two years ago HFE announced that the park would be closed due to financial reasons. Over the past two weeks some of the rides were sold at auction and the future of the property is uncertain.
Another attraction called "Ride the Ducks" both manufactures and operates amphibious vehicle tours through the Branson area and other locations throughout the United States was purchased in 2004. Recently HFE moved vehicle manufacturing operation from the Branson area to Kansas. It's not clear which location manufactured the vehicle that was cited in a recent wrongful death lawsuit filed by Ronai and Ronai LLP. Several press releases by the firm have made headlines recently.
Click the Read More Link Below to read some of the Press Releases and news articles published about the incident and lawsuit.

Duck Boat Tragedy

Duck boats have become a popular tourist attraction because of their unique appeal and being a relatively inexpensive way to sightsee various desirable locations throughout the United States. These vessels are modeled after the infamous World War II DUKW amphibious design for its convenience as transportation on land as a vehicle and in the water as a boat. However, the safety of duck boats are now in question due to a tragic Philadelphia duck boat accident that took place on July 7, 2010 that killed two young Hungarian students who were a part of a church youth exchange group. The Delaware River boating accident occurred after a 250-foot city-owned barge collided with the duck boat, which had come to a halt and was awaiting rescue due to mechanical trouble and a small fire. As a consequence of the collision with the barge, the duck boat sank and all 37 passengers were thrown overboard.
Although duck tour boats are United States Coast Guard certified, these vessels may not receive the thorough or updated testing that they require in order to ensure passenger and operator safety. Duck boat accidents can lead to the vessel capsizing (overturning in the water) and sinking, leading to serious injury or even death for boat occupants. Even when life vests and other floating devices are present on a duck boat, these items may not be as easily accessible as they should be and the circumstances of an accident may still cause a passenger to suffer injury or drown.
The excitement and appeal of duck boats should not overshadow the potentially life-threatening risks posed by defective duck boat components, boat driver/crew member error or inattention, improper duck boat maintenance, duck boat fires, and the failure of duck boat parts. Duck tour boat companies as well as owners of duck tour boat vessels may be held legally responsible for injuries or fatalities that result from accidents.
Boating accidents can be devastating, taking a physical, emotional, and financial toll on injury victims and their families. If another person’s negligence has caused you or a loved one to endure harm from a duck boat accident or another type of boat crash, a skilled personal injury attorney with experience handling boating accidents can help you obtain compensation for pain and suffering, loss of wages, medical bills, and other damages.
Families who lose loved ones in duck boat accidents and other boating collisions not only face tremendous grief in their sudden and unexpected loss, but the loss of companionship and even financial consequences due to losing a primary wage earner which can be extremely challenging.
The attorneys at Ronai and Ronai, LLP are currently representing the two families of the two individuals who were killed in the duck boat tragedy in Philadelphia. Each victim was the only child of their family. Our law firm is dedicated to helping injury victims and family members of wrongful death victims through one of the most challenging times in their lives.

Family Of Duck Boat Victims Sue 'Ride The Ducks'

A Philadelphia lawyer announced Friday that he was compelled to join the legal team for the families of two Hungarian victims of the 'Duck Boat' crash.

"For these families, their worst fears and nightmares were realized," said attorney Robert Mongeluzzi.

Mongeluzzi is headed to Hungary to meet with the parents of 16-year-old Dora Schwendtner and 20-year-old Szabolcs Prem "to get a real sense of their losses."

Schwendtner and Prem, each the only child of the families, were killed July 7 in the 'Ride the Ducks' tour boat collision with a city barge. Their parents are now suing.

On Friday, Mongeluzzi's co-counsel talked to reporters on the phone from Hungary.

"The families here are completely devastated and just speechless," said Peter Ronai.

The two students were on tour as part of a youth exchange group organized through a church in West Chester.

"The (other) children are saying that Prem apparently was trying to save Schwendtner, trying to save her life and in doing so, he lost his life," said Ronai.

The NTSB, who has been investigating since the tragic incident occurred, have conducted interviews with everyone but the tug boat's mate, who has exercised his Fifth Amendment rights.

"The only other case in recent memory where people where killed, where anybody pled the Fifth was the Pier 34 incident and so this raises troubling questions, " said Mongeluzzi.

The operator of the Heat nightclub, which was on Pier 34 when it collapsed, was represented by attorney Frank DeSimone, the same lawyer hired by the tug's mate.

"My client feels terrible about it. He has two children himself, but he also has to make sure his rights are protected," said DeSimone.

"Our families want to know what happened, but they also want to make sure it doesn't happen to anybody else," said Mongeluzzi.

For now, Mongeluzzi and his team are suing the 'Ride The Ducks' company and the tug's owner, K-Sea Transportation.

Officials from the NTSB concluded their on scene investigation Friday afternoon. A full report is expected in a month.

The bodies of the two victims will be shipped to Hungary on Tuesday, July 20.

A funeral for Dora Schwendtner has been planned for Thursday July 22 and a funeral for Szabolcs Prem will be held on Friday, July 23.

Messages of condolences can be sent to the families via their lawyers:

Legal wheels begin to turn in river tragedy

The Hungarian youths killed in last week's Duck-boat crash were each the sole child in their family.
Now their parents have no children, and they want answers.
"They want to find out what really happened," said Peter Ronai, the Hungarian-American lawyer who is representing the families of Dora Schwendtner, 16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20.
To help him with this endeavor, the New York attorney and his law partner/wife, Holly Ronai, hired "catastrophic personal injury" lawyers Bob Mongeluzzi and Drew Duffy on Thursday to represent the families in Philadelphia.
And Mongeluzzi knows who he's going after.
"We intend to proceed ahead against the corporations that we believe caused this catastrophe, which is K-Sea Transportation and Philadelphia Ride the Ducks LLC," he said.
Schwendtner, a thespian at heart who performed for the disabled, and Prem, who learned to speak English at age 5 by watching cartoons, both died in the accident on the Delaware River.
They drowned when a tugboat operated by K-Sea Transportation of New Brunswick, N.J., pushed a 250-foot, city-owned sludge barge into the back of the Ride the Ducks boat filled with 37 passengers, including a contingent from Mosonmagyarovar, Hungary.
The other 35 people survived the crash, which is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Ride the Ducks is owned by Herschend Family Entertainment Co., of Norcross, Ga.
Mongeluzzi said his firm, Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky, has handled about 50 loss-of-life cases, but "the death of a child is a very different thing. It is devastating."
"It is a wound from which no parent can ever fully heal," he added.
Duffy and Mongeluzzi were en route last night to Vienna, Austria, which is a 45-minute drive to Mosonmagyarovar, population 32,000, where the Schwendtners live. The Prem family lives 15 minutes away in the tiny village of Yanos Somorja, population 300, Ronai said.
Mongeluzzi also represented victims in the Pier 34 collapse that killed three women on the Delaware River in May 2000, and in the Tropicana Casino Resort parking-garage collapse, which resulted in four deaths and 24 injuries in October 2003.
Mongeluzzi said families don't think about money in most cases when there's loss of life.
"They want to know how can this happen? Why did it happen? How can we prevent this from happening again?" he said yesterday from his Liberty Place office with a bird's-eye view of the Delaware River.
"Clearly, these families suffered the most devastating of all losses," he said of the Prems and Schwendtners.
Mongeluzzi and Duffy asked the public to contact them if they have any images, videos or information from the day of the crash.
People close to Dora's mother have set up a post-office box for her so that those in Philadelphia can send her correspondence. Anyone can send letters - no money - to Aniko Takacsne, Box 9201-PF 157, Mosonmagyarovar, Hungary.

Read more: http://www.philly.com/dailynews/local/20100717_Legal_wheels_begin_to_turn_in_river_tragedy.html#ixzz0wL9hhZ8O
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Families want answers in Duck Boat accident

Friday, July 16th, 2010
By: Elizabeth Fiedler

A Philadelphia lawyer is joining the team representing the families of two Hungarian tourists who were killed in the Duck Boat accident. The attorneys say the families want answers more than money.
New York lawyer Peter Ronai became emotional a number of times while talking on speakerphone from Hungary, about what the families of the tourists want.
"They're not really thinking about money. They just wanna find out what happened, how did it happen? And mainly did the children have any pain and suffering? Because drowning is a very painful and slow way to die and they can't sleep at night thinking about what their last moments were like."
Robert Mongeluzzi
Robert Mongeluzzi

Ronai has been joined by Philadelphia lawyer Robert Mongeluzzi – who also plans to travel to Hungary to collect more information. He says defendants in a future lawsuit could include the Duck Boat company and the company that was piloting the boat that hit the sightseeing vessel and possibly the city as well. 

Duck boat builder, HFE Corp. named in suit
SBJ Staff
Branson- and Norcross, Ga.-based Herschend Family Entertainment Corp., the parent company of Ride the Ducks of Philadelphia, Amphibious Vehicle Manufacturing LLC, the Branson-based duck boat manufacturer, have been named in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed Aug. 10.

The suit was filed following a fatal duck-boat crash July 7 on the Delaware River in Philadelphia that killed two Hungarian student-tourists, according to a news release from Philadelphia law firm Ronai & Ronai LLP.

The suit also names the following companies:

  • Ride the Ducks of Philadelphia LLC;
  • East Brunswick, N.J.-based K-Sea Transportation Partners LP (NYSE: KSP), the owner-operator of Caribbean Sea, the tugboat and
  • The city of Philadelphia, owner of the barge.

Dora Schwendtner, 16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20, were killed when a 290-foot barge rammed the duck boat. The duck boat, which was filled with tourists, sank when it was struck.

Ride the Ducks International spokesman Bob Salmon was not available for comment at presstime.
Herschend Family Entertainment owns, operates and manages 24 themed properties in nine states, including Silver Dollar City in Branson, Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta, Adventure Aquarium in Camden, N.J., and Classic Cable Car Sightseeing in San Francisco. Herschend Family Entertainment, whose sites attract 14 million visitors a year, shares its headquarters in Branson and Atlanta.

Ride the Ducks operates locations in Branson, Boston, Philadelphia, Stone Mountain Park, Ga., San Francisco and Newport, Ken. (Cincinnati).

Herschend purchased Ride the Ducks in 2004, the release said.

Attorneys representing the students’ families outlined the lawsuit’s allegations at a news conference following the filing in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

The suits claims the duck boat failed to increase the buoyancy of the vessel per National Transportation Safety Board recommendations; operated in violation of NTSB recommendations by having a fixed canopy barring timely passenger escape in the event of a loss of buoyancy; failed to maintain basic safety equipment and failed to issue and require passengers wear floatation devices; operated outside Coast Guard-approved limit; and failed to summon emergency assistance.

It claims the tugboat failed to post a lookout and operated with a blind spot in busy shipping channel; failed to monitor proper emergency maritime channels and was deaf to the duck boat's Mayday calls; operated with an undermanned crew and instructed crew members to invoke the Fifth Amendment, depriving NTSB investigators of accident investigation information.