JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – A woman whose father was among the 17 people who died after a tourist duck boat sank in a Missouri lake condemned a bill Tuesday that would limit when companies can be sued over products that hurt people.
Jennifer Asher told a panel of House lawmakers that she called her father hundreds of times after hearing about the July 2018 accident at Table Rock Lake, when a Ride the Ducks of Branson boat known as Stretch Duck 7 sank during a severe storm. He never returned her calls.
She said a state trooper called her the next day to let her know that her father, Bill, was among those killed.
“My goal now is to turn my pain into a purpose, to make sure that no other family has to receive this awful, life-changing phone call,” Asher said. “As I mentioned before, this was a preventable disaster.”
The boat’s captain and two company executives were indicted following the accident, and dozens of lawsuits filed on behalf of victims’ families have been settled.
The Missouri bill that Asher is fighting would prohibit people injured or killed by products from suing more than 15 years after the product was sold or leased, with exceptions.
An attorney for Asher told lawmakers Tuesday that if the bill was in place when the duck boat sank, Asher and others whose family members died during the accident wouldn’t have been able to sue.
“This bill would limit a company’s responsibility for its product to 15 years,” Asher said. “I believe that that will lead to more disasters like the one that I went through.”
Some Republicans on the committee questioned whether the legislation would apply to a tragedy such as the duck boat accident because the former World War II amphibious vehicle was later altered.
Springfield Republican Rep. Curtis Trent said the purpose of his bill is to protect companies from “frivolous litigation.” He said after too much time passes, it’s challenging for companies to defend against such lawsuits because employees might go on to work elsewhere and records might be difficult to find.
“We’re protecting manufacturers from cases where too much time has lapsed and we no longer really have the ability to accurately determine if there is liability, and if so, where it properly lies,” Trent said during the hearing.
The measure is part of a longtime push by Missouri Republicans and business advocates to limit when, where and how companies can be sued in the state.