Missouri Boat Tragedy Raises Liability Questions: Who is Responsible for Bad Weather Conditions?

As many Floridians know, there is nothing like a day on the water. Whether you’re tanning and relaxing on your own boat, taking the scenic route with a ferry trip, or even going out on a chartered boat for a fancy date night, there is always a good time to be had . . . that is, unless a storm rolls in!

On the water, storms can be anything from a minor inconvenience to a major safety risk. And when bad weather leads to injuries or even deaths on commercial boats, it can make for big liability questions. Weather might be uncontrollable, but can someone still be liable for failing to properly react to a dangerous condition? Following a recent tragedy in Missouri, we are likely to see a debate over this liability question unfold.

Tragic Accident in Missouri

The incident occurred on July 19th in Branson, a resort town near the Ozark Mountains in southern Missouri. 31 people were out on a lake in a duck boat, an amphibious vessel commonly used for sightseeing, despite a severe weather warning. As a storm rolled in and wind gusts rapidly picked up, the boat struggled to stay afloat. It eventually sank to about 40 feet below the surface of the lake, then rolled to an even deeper area. 17 people were killed, with nine of the victims all from the same family. The victims ranged in age from one to 70, and many of the victims were families or couples. The driver of the boat was also killed, though the captain survived.

Lifejackets were available on the boat. However, none of the victims were wearing them. One survivor said that the boat’s captain pointed out the lifejackets, but said they would not be necessary.

Weather and Negligence

The severe weather warning was issued only about a half hour before the sinking. This complicates the investigation into what caused the accident. If the boat’s captain knew about the dangerous weather conditions, it’s possible that the captain or the company behaved negligently. During a severe weather warning, heavy winds and high waves should be a foreseeable danger. If the captain or company knew about the warning, they should have also reasonably known that the weather could endanger their passengers. Similarly, if they became aware of the weather conditions while on the lake, yet failed to take appropriate action, their failure to properly react could also negligence.

On the other hand, weather conditions can quickly deteriorate, as many boaters understand. This means that it is possible that the captain did everything he could to protect his passengers, yet still could not account for a sudden weather danger.

In a situation such as this, a third party could also be liable for the deaths and injuries. For example, if a radio that was supposed to be used to warn the captain about the dangerous conditions failed to work due to a defect, the radio manufacturer could be partially liable if they knew about the potential risks it could cause. Defects with lifejackets, flotation devices, or even the boat could also lead to third party liability for an incident such as this.

Justice for Victims

It’s still unclear what went wrong in Missouri, but an investigation is underway to find justice for the victims. Whatever the cause, whether it was negligence or a human error, we hope that everyone is able to quickly find peace and justice in the aftermath of this horrific tragedy.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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