By John McDevitt
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – An old federal maritime limitation of liability law is expected to be challenged today in a federal court in Philadelphia, another chapter in the case of the fatal duck boat collision that killed two Hungarian students nearly two years ago. The non-jury trial is expected to last about four weeks.
Killed in the collision on July 7, 2010, were two Hungarian tourists onboard the Ride the Ducks vessel: Dora Schwendtner, 16, and Szabolcs Prem, 20.
The defendants (the vessels’ operators) claim that under an 1851 federal maritime law, there should be a liability cap: the total value of the three vessels — the tug, the barge and the duck boat, which is about $1.8-million.
Attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, representing the victims’ families, says he will attempt to get the cap lifted.
“In this case, the defendants say that the value of these two children’s lives should be no more than the combined value of their duck boat, sludge barge and tug boat which is about $1.8-million.”
Through a translator, Maria Prem, the mother of Szabolcs, says, “to say that my son’s life is worth the value of a ship doesn’t make sense.”
Mongeluzzi intends to show the operators of the tug and Ride the Ducks were negligent.
“What happened that day was because of defendants’ failure to act upon knowledge that they had for years,” like the use of cell phones on the tug and the inability to use the radio and air horn on the duck boat when the engine isn’t running.
“This is not to establish an award. This is to establish that the defendants aren’t entitled to limit their liability to the value of a damaged duck boat, a tug boat and an empty sludge barge.”
The families (through a translator) say they still are grieving the loss of their loved ones.
“We don’t really have any more holidays. We don’t have any Christmas. We don’t really have anything anymore.”
Peter Schwendtner, father of 16-year-old Dora, told reporters Sunday through a translator that he wants the companies to be taught a lesson so this will never happen again.
The families will be in court today and return to Hungary Wednesday.
A Ride the Ducks spokesman tells KYW Newsradio they have no comment on the trial, citing on-going litigation.