Washington, D.C. – – Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman wrongful death and personal injury attorney Timothy A. Loranger attended the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) meeting to determine the probable cause of last year’s crash between an amphibious duck boat vehicle and a chartered tour bus in Seattle. Five people were killed in the Seattle duck boat crash, and 69 passengers were injured. Baum Hedlund represents the family of Claudia Derschmidt, one of the students killed on the bus.
On the morning of September 24, 2015, at about 11:11 a.m., “DUCK 6,” an amphibious duck boat is known as an “APV” (amphibious passenger vehicle) owned by Ride the Ducks Seattle was traveling north on Washington State Route 99. As it was traveling over the Aurora Bridge, the duck boat vehicle suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure, crossed the double yellow line and collided with an oncoming charter bus on a sightseeing tour, loaded with students from North Seattle College. All five of the fatalities were aboard the bus, which was significantly damaged in the accident.
Eleven people riding on the duck boat were ejected from the vehicle upon impact. In total, 16 duck boat riders sustained serious injuries, and 20 others reported minor injuries as a result of the accident. As for the tour bus, five people died and 13 people aboard the bus sustained serious injuries.
The NTSB Board Meeting on the Seattle duck boat crash took place at the NTSB Board Room and Conference Center in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, November 15, 2016, at 1:30 p.m. This meeting completes the agency’s investigation into the tragic accident by determining the probable cause. When the NTSB’s final report on the accident is issued, it will also include a series of recommendations aimed at making sure another accident like this doesn’t happen again.
NTSB: Fatal Duck Boat Accident Caused by Mechanical Failure
The NTSB has determined that the probable cause of the 2015 Seattle duck boat crash was due to a mechanical failure of the left front axle. The driver of DUCK 6 lost control of the vehicle causing it to travel into oncoming traffic, hitting a tour bus broadside.
According to the NTSB, Ride the Ducks International (RTDI), improperly designed and manufactured the vehicle failed to adequately address a known issue related to cracks in the axel and failed to register its vehicle with the National Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) which would have provided proper oversight. Ride the Ducks of Seattle (RTDS), the vehicle owner and operator, failed to adequately maintain the vehicle and failed to perform required repairs also relate to the known issue in the axel.
RTDI’s failure to register with NHTSA and failure to meet the requirements of certain safety-related statutes and regulations may subject it to substantial civil penalties under 49 U.S.C. 30165. Fines of $7,000 for each violation up to a maximum penalty of $15,350,000 may be levied. 49 U.S.C 578. Whether NHTSA will assess such penalties is yet to be determined since NTSB’s recommendations have only just been released.
Contributing Factors and Bus Safety Issues
The NTSB found during its investigation that Ride the Ducks of Seattle ignored or neglected to repair the axle housing despite numerous service bulletins. In addition, Ride the Ducks of Seattle lacked necessary protocols and procedures for tracking such maintenance compliance and repairs.
Dr. Robert Molloy, Director of the NTSB Office of Highway Safety, explained that RTDI did not conduct a proper engineering analysis to determine whether the fix they recommended for the axle would have been effective. Despite RTDI’s engineering failure, Ride the Ducks Seattle’s failure to comply with the service bulletin shows that “they completely dropped the ball on actually executing this potential fix.”
Listed as a contributing factor, is that RTDI failed to register as a vehicle manufacturer with NHTSA, and therefore avoided necessary government oversight and regulation. Proper registration would have helped to ensure that RTDI adequately addressed defects through a federal recall program. Under this program, NHTSA is able to take action to ensure that occupant protection systems are properly implemented as they operate 2/3 of the time on public roads.
The Board also recommended that seat belts be required on all new APV duck boats, as these vehicles are properly categorized as over-the-road buses (excluding school buses). The seatbelt requirement goes into effect at the end of November 2016 but affects only newly manufactured over-the-road buses. Due to the amphibious nature of the vehicles, NTSB recommended that passengers not use seat belts once the vehicle is in the water and that the duck boat tour guides announce and confirm that all passengers’ seat belts are unfastened so that passengers can escape from the boat in case of emergency.
The NTSB also recommended that a tour guide be present on every duck boat tour which will allow the driver to concentrate one hundred percent on driving. Before the Aurora Bridge crash, the driver doubled as a tour guide.
Another safety improvement the NTSB recommended is for RTDI and Ride the Ducks of Seattle to use the Coast Guard assumed average weight per person value of 180 pounds when determining the actual vehicle weight, rather than the outdated 150-pound average weight per person designation.
“This was not a case of an impaired, fatigued, or distracted driver or of any inappropriate actions by either driver. Rather, the crash was due to a mechanical failure on the amphibious passenger vehicle that should have been addressed,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart. “This crash is a cautionary tale of what can happen when a manufacturer does not follow established rules about fixing safety defects.”
The NTSB issued nine safety recommendations to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, three to the U.S. Coast Guard, three to Ride the Ducks International, one to Ride the Ducks of Seattle, and one to the Passenger Vessel Association. To view findings, probable cause, and all recommendations, click on this link.
The docket material for the Seattle duck boat crash investigation—which contains interview summaries, investigative group factual reports, relevant photos, maintenance records, and a video study from a surveillance camera that captured the final crash sequence—is also available online. The full report will be available on the NTSB website in several weeks.
Baum Hedlund’s Seattle Duck Boat Crash Lawsuit Allegations
One of the victims who perished in the accident was Claudia Derschmidt of Austria. Ms. Derschmidt and her youngest son were in Seattle as part of an international study program. She was attending North Seattle College and her son was attending Roosevelt High School. Ms. Derschmidt was among the 45 to 50 students riding on the charter bus to an excursion that the school had organized for its international program. Her son was in class at the time of the accident.
In September 2016, Baum Hedlund attorney, Tim Loranger, and the legal team working on behalf of Ms. Derschmidt’s estate filed a lawsuit against Ride the Ducks International, Ride the Ducks Seattle, duck boat driver Eric Bishop, the state of Washington and the City of Seattle. The wrongful death lawsuit claims that the duck boat vehicle involved in the bus accident had a known defect in the axle, which caused driver Eric Bishop to lose control of the vehicle and cross over the double yellow line into oncoming traffic.
The amphibious passenger vehicle involved in the Seattle duck boat crash was manufactured or remanufactured by Ride the Ducks International. The lawsuit claims that Ride the Ducks International is strictly liable for all damages because the duck boat vehicle was not reasonably safe. Furthermore, Ride the Ducks International failed to provide adequate warnings or maintenance and repair instructions for the repair of the duck boat vehicle in question prior to the 2015 accident on the Aurora Bridge.
Ride the Ducks Seattle operated the crashed duck boat vehicle. According to the lawsuit allegations, the company was negligent in many respects, including, but not limited to:
- Failing to properly inspect, maintain, and repair the duck boat vehicle.
- Failing to use reasonable care to detect and remedy hazardous defects.
- Failing to address a 2013 safety notice issued by Ride the Ducks International.
- Failing to properly train and supervise its mechanics and drivers.
- Operating an unsafe, dangerous, and defective duck boat vehicle on a state highway known to have inadequate lane width to accommodate the duck boat.
- Requiring drivers to function as both tour guides and drive their vehicles simultaneously.
The government defendants in the case had a duty to the public to design and maintain the Aurora Bridge to be safe for motorists. The lawsuit claims that the state and the city failed in this duty, as the bridge had a long history of accidents related to speeding issues, lane width, and a lack of a median barrier separating northbound and southbound traffic. The government defendants could have addressed these issues by taking corrective action—but failed to do so—the complaint states.
The lawsuit is seeking general damages and punitive damages.