All parties in the duck boat wrongful death trial have reached a $15 million dollar settlement agreement. That money will be split between the families of two Hungarian students who died when a barge ran right over their Ride the Ducks tour boat on the Delaware River on July 7, 2010.
"For the families, no amount of money can replace their priceless, only children," said lead attorney Robert Mongeluzzi. "They are literally at the airport in New York, returning to their homeland in Hungary, not with what they wanted to return with most -- their children."
In all, 35 passengers and two crew members ended up in the fast-moving waters that day. Dora Schwendtner, 16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20, drowned. Everyone else survived. Dora and Prem's families sued K-Sea Transportation, the company that owns the tug boat that was guiding the barge, and the duck boat tour company.
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"They have told us that the amount of money was not really important," said Peter Ronai, another attorney for the victims' families. "What they wanted to do was bring a change and if they could get this amount of money, it would equate to an apology."
A two-million dollar fund will be set up for the survivors of the crash.
The judge in the federal case urged the parties to try to reach a settlement yesterday, day two of the trial, after passenger Kevin Grace recounted what happened in the minutes and seconds before the crash as "tremendous, tremendous horror and panic at what was about to happen."
The duck boat stalled in the river that day. Grace testified that even though everyone saw the barge coming toward them, it was inconceivable to think it would actually run them over. Then, when the deckhand jumped ship, Grace said he was certain at that point that "obviously this is going to happen."
During opening arguments on Monday, attorneys for the families showed video of Dora tossing her life jacket out the deckhand.
The National Transportation Safety Board's investigation found that cell phones were a major distraction in the crash. The tugboat operator, Matt Devlin, was on his cell phone dealing with a family emergency, and the deckhand for the duck boat was texting his girlfriend. Devlin ended up pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and is spending 366 days in prison.
"The families believe that the publicity generated by this case was going to spur safety improvements with the duck boats and with transportation and they felt strongly that that was going to be a positive outcome of this case," Mongeluzzi told NBC10's Terry Ruggles after the settlement was reached.
Ride the Ducks released the following statement Wednesday evening:
We will never forget about the loss of Dora Schwendtner and Szabolcs Prem. While we will always be changed by this tragic accident, we are committed to safely entertaining Philadelphia families and visitors.
We are glad to bring closure to this sad chapter, most importantly for the families involved. As parents ourselves, we are sorry for what they have experienced. I personally want them to know that I'd move heaven and earth to undo what happened if I could.
Our first concern has always been and will continue to be the safety and well-being of our passengers and crew.
K-Sea Transportation has not commented.
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