Settlement reached in fatal Philadelphia boat crash suit

Reuters News

5/10/2012 5:29:08 PM - Reuters News

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A civil lawsuit over the deaths of two students in a 2010 Philadelphia Duck Boat crash was settled on Wednesday with an agreement to pay $17 million in damages, according to an attorney in the case.

Two Hungarian students, Dora Schwendtner, 16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20, drowned when the amphibious craft was hit by a 250-foot (76-meter) barge pushed by a tugboat in the Delaware River.

The families and companies Ride the Ducks and K-Sea Transportation Partners, which operated the tug, were facing off this week in federal court to determine if maritime law applied in the case.

If so, as the two boat companies had argued, damages would have been limited to the value of the vessels, or about $1.8 million.

At that hearing, which began on Monday, U.S. District Judge Thomas O'Neill suggested the sides negotiate a settlement.

The $17 million settlement reached on Wednesday came as the victims' families were leaving the United States for Hungary, said their lawyer, Robert Mongeluzzi.

"We tried to get them at the airport," he said, but that effort failed. "They had to get back to their jobs."

The attorney said he thinks a dramatic video showing the barge running over the stalled Duck Boat, which was played at the hearing, pushed the boat owners to settle. A duck boat is an amphibious vehicle, popular for tours in many cities, that can drive on city streets and plunge into water.

A spokesman for Mongeluzzi's firm said $15 million of the settlement will go to the two Hungarian families and $2 million to injured passengers. Thirty-five passengers and crew survived.

"There was a lot of evidence that was going to be produced that shows the Duck Boat was run over and should not have been run over," said Jack Snyder, an attorney representing Ride the Ducks.

In a statement, Ride The Ducks President Chris Herschend said: "We are glad to bring closure to this sad chapter, most importantly for the families involved.

"I personally want them to know that I'd move heaven and earth to undo what happened if I could," he said.

Wayne Meehan, an attorney who represented the tug boat company, declined to comment.

Details of how much each company will pay were not disclosed.

Matthew Devlin, 35, who was operating the tug that day, is serving a prison sentence of a year and a day on a criminal misconduct charge that is the maritime equivalent of involuntary manslaughter.

(Reporting by Dave Warner, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Eric Walsh)