Families of victims in Ride the Ducks river tragedy settle for $17 million

Twenty-three months since a catastrophe on the Delaware River just off Penns Landing left two Hungarian tourists dead, a huge settlement between operators of the Ride the Duck tourism vehicles and the city-contracted tug boats and the families of Dora Schwendtner,16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20 was reached, according to a spokesman for the families’ attorney.

The terms of the $17 million settlement were reached this afternoon on what would have been the third day of the civil trial, which began with the families fighting an effort by both Ride the Ducks and K-Sea Transportation (the tug boat owner) to cap liability for the deaths.

“The families are deeply grateful to the Court for recognizing that their children were important and did not deserve to die in vain,” one of the families’ attorneys, Robert Mongeluzzi, said in a statement. “While their suffering continues, they have renewed hope in the American justice system and that stricter regulations on cell phone use and tourist-boat operating procedures might avert similar catastrophes on and off the water.”

The first mate of the tug boat, which was navigating a massive city barge upriver when it crushed a duck boat in June, 2010, is already serving a federal prison sentence for driving while distracted. He used his cell phone numerous times while operating the tug because of a family emergency.

But lawyers for the Hungarian families argued all along that the mate wasn’t solely responsible for the catastrophe and deaths.

“This case illustrated in graphic, chilling detail what happens when safety rules and regulations are not enforced. The settlement is not only what is right and just for the families and all the victims, but also it is totally consistent with the findings and recommendation following the extensive investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board,” attorney Andrew Duffy said.

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