Ride the Ducks Trial

Automobile Accidents | Bus Collision | Ride the Ducks

By Melissa D. Carter

February 13, 2019

What Happens When a Jury Finds That a Business Places Passenger’s Lives at Risk by Ignoring Safety

ride the ducks
(Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times)

We represented 2 of the 60+ passengers that were involved in the tragic Ride the Ducks crash on the Aurora Bridge on September 24, 2015.

Our 2 clients are cousins who set out on a sight-seeing journey in downtown Seattle on a beautiful day with blue skies.  One cousin, a 40-year old married mother of two, was hosting her younger, 30-year old cousin, who was visiting from Michigan.  The women planned to shop at Pike Place Market, to visit the Space Needle, and at the last minute, they decided to hop on a duckboat for a fun tour of Seattle.  As the duckboat crossed the Aurora Bridge, the front axle fractured and the left front wheel flew off.  The duckboat careened uncontrollably into oncoming traffic and impaled a charter bus carrying international students from North Seattle College, seriously injuring dozens and killing five (5) international students.

One cousin flew several feet down the aisle during the impact. A male passenger landed on top of her and she blacked out.  The younger cousin’s face crashed down onto the seat in front of her, smashing her nose and separating her shoulder.  Neither woman knew what had happened and struggled to find each other as they came to.  Once they found each other and were helped off the duckboat, they sat on the side of the bridge for nearly an hour. Under and around them were color-coded triage tarps where victims of the crash were laid out on the ground by the severity of their injuries. Some victims were very clearly badly hurt. Others did not survive the crash. Both cousins went to the ER and had months of medical treatment.  Their physical injuries eventually healed, but they both were shaken by nightmares and replaying that day in their minds.  Neither could talk about it.  Their careers suffered.  Their relationships were strained.  They could not erase the images, the sounds, or the smells on the bridge that terrible day.

Despite their nightmares, the cousins considered themselves lucky.  They did not have broken bones and they lived.   But what stuck with them was the guilt.  Why did they survive, and why did five others die from the same crash?

Ride the Ducks Seattle, the operator of the duckboat, and Ride the Ducks International, the manufacturer, knew about the axle problem, which was a known engineering defect.  They did nothing to fix it.  They simply waited and hoped the worst would never happen. When they had the opportunity to take responsibility for what happened, they did not. Worse still, at trial, Ride the Ducks dug deeply into both of the cousins’ pasts, blaming them for not getting more treatment, and for not talking about the harrowing images that continued to haunt them.  They were “fine,” and the need for counseling was not real, said Ride the Ducks. They also blamed everyone else for the tragedy.

We had the incredible honor to represent these cousins, and to join a group of over 40 plaintiffs in the trial against Ride the Ducks that began in Seattle on October 1, 2018 and ended over 4 months later when the jury reached its decision on February 7, 2019.  Our two cousins did not ask the jury to award their medical bills, and did not provide them with medical testimony about the treatment each endured to address their physical injuries, which were not minor.  But these women did tell the jury about their nightmares, the images of the deceased passengers on the bridge, and the dark and paralyzing thoughts that they could not erase.  And when Ride the Ducks suggested that their emotional harms were insignificant, the jury saw right through it.  On February 7, 2019, after over 4 months of trial, the King County jury awarded the group of over 40 plaintiffs $123 million in damages, including over $1,300,000.00 in emotional distress damages to our two cousins. The jury understood that surviving such a terrible crash left emotional scars that would not heal, even if the physical ones did. The jury also sent a message to Ride the Ducks for placing passengers in danger over a known problem that could have easily been fixed for a small amount of money.