Feb. 7, 2019 – Seattle, Washington – – A King County jury found Ride the Ducks and Ride the Ducks International negligent in the 2015 Seattle Duck Boat crash, awarding $123 million to victims and their families.
After months of trial proceedings and more than a week of deliberations, the jury found that Ride the Ducks International and Ride the Ducks Seattle are liable for the crash between a duck boat tour vehicle and a charter bus loaded with students from North Seattle College. According to the verdict, Ride the Ducks International carries 67-70% liability for the crash and Ride the Ducks Seattle bears 30-33% liability depending on whether the victims were passengers on the duck boat or the charter bus.
Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman Clients Awarded More than $20 Million in Damages
The jury awarded compensation to the plaintiffs ranging from tens of thousands to tens of millions. Counsel representing 43 plaintiffs accused Ride the Ducks Seattle and Ride the Ducks International of gross negligence and failure to maintain their fleet of amphibious vehicles.
Among the plaintiffs were Felix and Moritz Derschmidt, the sons of Claudia Derschmidt, who was one of five North Seattle College students killed in the tragic crash. At the time of the accident, Claudia and Felix, both from Austria, were studying abroad in Seattle; Claudia at North Seattle College and Felix at an area high school.
The jury awarded the Derschmidts over $20 million in damages. Specifically, they awarded $386,400 for economic damages and $20 million for non-economic damages (for the loss the children suffered of her love, care, guidance and companionship). Read the verdict form.
“Felix and Moritz Derschmidt are grateful for the jury who listened to their story with such care and respect and who truly appreciated the loss suffered by them, their family, and the community. Their mother was a young and vibrant teacher whom they loved very much,” says Timothy A. Loranger, an attorney for Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman, who represented the Derschmidts.
“In talking with the jurors after the reading of their verdict, it became clear that they listened very carefully to all sides and weighed the evidence fairly. Their verdict was the result of calm, intelligent, and considered deliberations,” Loranger further explained.
Timothy Loranger was part of the trial team for the plaintiffs, conducting extensive pre-trial work pertaining to liability issues, mechanical defects and service bulletins. Karen Koehler from the law firm of Stritmatter Kessler Whelan Koehler Moore served as lead trial counsel in the case.
“Karen Koehler did a excellent job of educating the jury about the negligence of the Ride the Ducks defendants and carefully presenting the heart-wrenching story of the 43 plaintiffs,” Loranger said. “These 43 plaintiffs who suffered so much, stood together throughout the litigation and trial as a true force of love and support for one another.”
Ride the Ducks Seattle and Ride the Ducks International Found Liable for Fatal Duck Boat Crash in Washington
On Sept. 24, 2015, Claudia Derschmidt and dozens of other North Seattle College students boarded a charter bus headed for a school orientation. As the bus was going over the Aurora Bridge, an amphibious duck boat known as an “APV” (amphibious passenger vehicle) owned by Ride the Ducks Seattle suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure.
The duck boat vehicle crossed over a double line into oncoming traffic where it collided with a charter bus, killing Ms. Derschmidt and four other students. Dozens of people in both vehicles sustained injuries.
A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into the fatal accident concluded that a mechanical failure of the left front axle of the duck boat was the probable cause of the crash.
The agency also found that Ride the Ducks International improperly manufactured the duck boat, failed to adequately address a known issue related to cracks in the axle, and failed to register its vehicle with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), which would have provided proper oversight for safety defects and recalls.
Ride the Ducks Seattle, which owned and operated the duck boat involved in the Aurora Bridge crash, failed to adequately maintain the vehicle and failed to perform required repairs related to the known issue in the axle, per the NTSB report.
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, which regulates commercial tourist vehicles, suspended Ride the Ducks Seattle from operating after the fatal crash. The company later admitted to 159 critical safety violations and agreed to pay nearly a quarter of a million dollars in penalties to settle a state-initiated complaint before resuming operations.
During the trial, attorneys for the plaintiffs alleged that the former owner of Ride the Ducks International scavenged parts for the fleet of WWII-era amphibious vehicles from scrapyards, and improvised repairs even though he was not an engineer or a mechanic. The plaintiffs also accused Ride the Ducks Seattle of failing to properly inspect and maintain its duck boat and ignoring a service bulletin that detailed a flaw with the vehicle’s axle.
“There is no excuse for them not to have recalled this vehicle, no excuse for them not to have conducted services of this vehicle,” said attorney Karen Koehler during the trial. “It was not an accident. Choices were made, decisions were made that cost lives.”
The jury verdict could impact other duck boat lawsuits stemming from the Branson, Missouri duck boat accident in 2018, which killed 17 people. Cases against Ride the Ducks Branson and Ride the Ducks International, among other defendants, are pending.
About Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman
The national law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman has successfully fought for victims affected by commercial transportation accidents, including duck boat crashes and other boating accidents. Since 1973, the firm has handled thousands of cases against some of the world’s largest corporations, securing over $1.9 billion on behalf of clients across all areas of practice.