$17M settlement in deadly Philly duck boat crash

Associated Press Modified: May 9, 2012 at 7:01 pm •  Published: May 9, 2012
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The families of two Hungarian students killed two years ago when a tugboat-guided barge slammed into and sank their amphibious sightseeing boat in the Delaware River will split $15 million after a settlement was reached Wednesday, just days into a federal wrongful-death trial that had been expected to last a month.

Eighteen surviving passengers will share in $2 million in the deal, which was approved by a judge after two days of testimony.

The victims' families were on a plane returning to Hungary and were unaware a settlement had been reached, but their attorney Robert Mongeluzzi said they were "deeply grateful to the court for recognizing that their children were important and did not deserve to die in vain."

Szabolcs Prem, 20, and Dora Schwendtner, 16, whose group was visiting the U.S. through a church exchange program, drowned when their amphibious sightseeing boat, called a duck boat, was slammed by the empty sludge barge and capsized on July 7, 2010.

Their families filed wrongful-death lawsuits against K-Sea Transportation, of East Brunswick, N.J., which operated the tugboat guiding the barge upriver, and Ride the Ducks, of Norcross, Ga., which operated the tour boat.

Before the wrongful-death case could proceed, however, U.S. District Judge O'Neill was to determine whether a limit should be set on the financial liability of the two boat owners. K-Sea and Ride the Ducks, citing an 1851 maritime law, wanted their financial liability capped at the value of their vessels involved in the crash: $1.65 million for the tug and $150,000 for the duck boat.

On Tuesday, O'Neill asked attorneys to try to hammer out an agreement before the case continued, and U.S. District Judge John Padova began working with the parties on settlement talks.

"The families told us from the outset that they had a duty to honor their children and to do what they could to ensure that the lives of other children were not put at risk by unsafe operators of tourist boats, barges or tugboats," said another attorney for the families, Peter Ronai, a Hungarian speaker who also acted as an interpreter for the parents.

The tug pushed the 250-foot-long barge into and over the 33-foot-long duck boat as it sat idle and anchored in an active shipping lane along its route, sending 37 people into the river about 150 feet from the Philadelphia shoreline. Survivors were pulled from the murky water by firefighters, a passing ferry boat and bystanders who swam from shore.

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