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Prosecutors shouldn’t add to families’ pain by delaying lawsuits in duck boat tragedy

Federal prosecutors want to delay multiple civil lawsuits filed after a tragic boating accident on Table Rock Lake in Branson killed 17 people.

They say the action is necessary to prevent the litigation from interfering with a federal criminal investigation. But an indefinite delay is a painful affront to the families affected by the July Ride the Ducks tragedy.

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The request to stop all discovery and release of information until a federal probe is completed could leave victims and their families waiting for years without a resolution or a settlement. The delay no doubt would be excruciating.

Some victims’ families are angry about the call to put their cases on hold, and they have a right to be. As their attorneys rightly argued, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Learning as much as possible about what caused the duck boat to sink in stormy weather is in the public interest. The boats operate in other cities throughout the country, and they need to stay on dry land until they are deemed safe. Meantime, families should be able to seek relief in court.

Punitive damages won’t necessarily ease the pain of those who lost loved ones. But for families who have limited recourse, a civil lawsuit is one of their few options as they seek answers in the wake of a horrific, deadly accident.

The lawsuits will hold the boat’s owners and operators financially responsible. The safety of the boats and any criminal wrongdoing in this incident must be thoroughly investigated. But that shouldn’t preclude lawsuits from going forward.

It took two years to settle a civil case stemming from a 2010 duck boat accident on the Delaware River in Philadelphia. At least 35 passengers and two crew members were plunged underwater when a tugboat towing a barge rammed into the amphibious craft. The crash left two Hungarian students dead.

Operators of the two vessels involved reached a $17 million settlement with the victims and the students’ families. The tugboat pilot was held criminally responsible at the conclusion of the investigation.

In 2015, a duck boat driving on a Philadelphia street struck and killed a 68-year-old Texas woman. The litigation resulted in a confidential settlement for the pedestrian’s family.

Grieving families should have the option of pursuing claims now. As their attorneys wrote in a recent filing in federal court, the victims deserve justice and their families are owed closure.

“The efforts of the United States Attorney to delay closure for the victims will only prolong their suffering,” the filing read.

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The victims’ families should have their day in court without delay.

— The Kansas City Star