Ride the Ducks civil case heads to court Tuesday

Oct 2, 2018, 5:18 AM
Ride the Ducks...
Ride the Ducks crash on Seattle's Aurora Bridge in 2015. (AP)

A massive civil trial over the deadly 2015 Ride the Ducks crash on Seattle’s Aurora Bridge gets underway today.

It was just over three years ago that a Seattle Ride the Ducks tour went horribly wrong on the Aurora Bridge, when the vehicle veered into oncoming traffic and plowed into a charter bus packed mostly with international students from North Seattle College.

Five people on the charter bus were killed. More than 60 people were hurt between the bus and the duck boat. There have been dozens of lawsuits against multiple defendants, including Ride the Ducks, the City of Seattle, and the state of Washington. The city and state settled about 12 lawsuits earlier this year for more than $4 million.

 RELATED: Ride the Ducks lawsuits challenged because families don’t live in U.S.

The trial getting underway Tuesday is the largest concerning the crash, and is expected to last five months. There are 43 people in the group of plaintiffs. It includes three wrongful death lawsuits. This is not a class action lawsuit.

Among the defendants in this trial: Ride the Ducks Seattle and its president Brian Tracey; the vehicle manufacturer — Ride the Ducks International; the State of Washington; and the City of Seattle.

The lawyers for the plaintiffs paint a picture of World War 2-era vehicles used for tourism with little-to-no oversight, and priority given to profit rather than proper maintenance and safety.

An NTSB Investigation found the probable cause of the crash was mechanical failure and improper maintenance, as well as loopholes in federal oversight.

It found the axle on Duck 6 broke, causing the driver to lose control and veer into oncoming traffic, hitting the charter bus.

RELATED: At least four Ducks collisions in Seattle since 2015

In 2013, RTD International, the manufacturer of Duck 6, issued an urgent service bulletin to franchisees and licensees, including Ride the Ducks Seattle for an urgent fix to the axle housing and sent parts for the fix. But RTD did not get them because they did not expressly ask, according to court documents.

RTD visited all the franchisees to make sure they got the welding work done, but because the Seattle location was only a licensee they didn’t get a visit.

The NTSB criticized Ride the Ducks International for failing to register as a manufacturer with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which would have ensured better oversight. They also were critical of Ride the Ducks Seattle for failing to follow up on the service bulletin that warned of problems with the axle housings on the vehicles.

The city and state are also defendants in this case because of the Aurora Bridge, which has no median despite recommendations to install one more than 15 years ago. Experts have said — and will testify — that a median could have stopped the Duck from hitting the bus.

A judge denied a motion filed by the City of Seattle earlier this year asking to be dismissed from the lawsuit. The city argued WSDOT, which owns Highway 99 (that includes the Aurora Bridge) was responsible for safety. But the state argued safety on the bridge was the city’s responsibility. The judge found both were responsible.

PHOTOS: Duck vehicle collisions in Seattle

The court also denied a change of venue motion last month from defendants concerned about all the local media coverage.

The first few days of the trial are expected to involve additional motions. Jury selection is expected to begin later in the week and will last at least a week. Arguments in the trial are tentatively expected around mid-October.

If the case doesn’t settle at some point, the entire trial is expected to last about five months.

There are still about a dozen cases that are not part of this trial.

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Ride the Ducks civil case heads to court Tuesday