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Sudden Halt to Duck Boat Trial as Settlement Discussions Are Renewed

(Attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, center, and fellow attorneys representing family members of duck boat victims in background, speak with reporters on Monday outside the US Courthouse in Philadelphia.  Credit: Steve Tawa)

(Attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, center, and fellow attorneys representing family members of duck boat victims in background, speak with reporters on Monday outside the US Courthouse in Philadelphia. Credit: Steve Tawa)

Steve Tawa Steve Tawa
Steve Tawa joined KYW Newsradio in 1990, and splits his time between...
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By Steve Tawa

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — An abrupt halt came today to the federal trial over the July 2010 fatal “duck boat” accident on the Delaware River, as the judge in the non-jury trial told the parties to try to reach a settlement.

In the midst of the second day of testimony (see related story), Judge Thomas O’Neill suggested that all parties in the case meet with another federal judge to engage in settlement discussions.  (It would be potentially prejudicial for O’Neill to oversee the settlement talks himself.)

Judge O’Neill sent the parties from his third-floor courtroom in the US courthouse at 6th and Market Streets to the 17th-floor chambers of Judge John Padova.

The trial was to decide the monetary liability for the deaths of two Hungarian students who were aboard the disabled amphibious boat when it was run down by a city-owned sludge barge being pushed from behind by a tugboat.

The first mate of the tug, Matthew Devlin, has been sentenced to one year in prison in connection with the deaths.

The two boat operators — Ride The Ducks and K-Sea (the tug owner) — have been claiming that under an 1851 federal maritime law, their total liability would be limited to the value of the vessels involved in the accident: about $1.8 million.

Attorney Robert Mongeluzzi, who represents the parents of the victims, said the families would be unwilling to settle for that amount.  He would not set an acceptable figure, but was willing to engage in further talks with the other parties.

After the monetary liability for the two deaths is determined, the trial will switch focus to the other victims who were injured in the crash.

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