In September 2015 a married couple from Wisconsin travelled to Seattle with their friend who was dying of cancer. They wanted to participate in their friend’s “bucket list” trip to see the Orcas swimming in Puget Sound. Unfortunately, they never got to see the whales.
Less than 48 hours after arriving in Seattle, they made the fateful decision to tour the city on a “Ride the Ducks” amphibious vehicle. Little did they know that the vehicle had a fatal engineering flaw that resulted in a weakened front axle housing that was a ticking time bomb. The manufacturer of the vehicle, Ride the Ducks International and the operator of the tour company, Ride the Ducks Seattle both knew about the defect, but neither did anything about it.
As the Duck vehicle was crossing the Aurora Bridge on that fateful day, the front axle finally cracked and the left wheel literally fell off, causing the Duck vehicle to careen across the center line, directly into a charter bus filled with international students from North Seattle College. As a result of that collision five people were killed and more than 60 others were injured.
Immediately following the impact, these two women couldn’t find each other. One had been thrown from the Duck vehicle onto the pavement, suffering multiple spinal fractures, along with cuts and bruises over most of her body. Her wife, who was pinned on the Duck vehicle, suffered a badly fractured hip, multiple broken ribs, and severe injuries to her knee, shoulder, and low back. But the most horrifying part for each of them was not knowing if her partner had survived the crash.
The scene of the crash was like a battlefield. First responders set up a triage station to separate the dead from the dying, and the critically injured from the less seriously injured. There was smoke and debris, the smell of blood and gasoline, and the sounds of people screaming.
Eventually, after emergency hip surgery at Harborview, they were able to return home to Wisconsin. Upon their return, neither woman could work. One was a FedEx driver and the other a PE teacher. To this day, neither has been able to return to work. The teacher took early retirement and the FedEx driver was approved for long-term disability coverage.
Even worse than their physical injuries, medical procedures, and lost income, has been the emotional impact this totally avoidable crash has had on them. They have flashbacks and nightmares. They are afraid to drive, or even to ride in a car. It has put a strain on their relationship and has profoundly impaired their quality of life.
Fortunately, they found the Law Offices of Matthew D. Dubin from their home in Wisconsin. We were able to insure they got the medical treatment they needed, and that the insurance companies for the Ducks did not take advantage of them during the process.
When we approached Ride the Ducks for compensation, they denied that they did anything wrong. The operator blamed the manufacturer and the manufacturer blamed the operator, but neither would take responsibility. Worse, they each blamed the victims, claiming their suffering was unrelated to the horrible and totally preventable crash.
At that point we joined a group of amazing trial lawyers led by Karen Koehler. As other attorneys and injured people saw the strength of our group, they joined as well. Ultimately our group included numerous co-counsel and more than 40 clients.
We continued to negotiate with the Duck companies and their insurers, but we were unable to get a fair settlement for our clients. Our group was forced to try the case, including the claims of my two clients. On October 1 we began a trial that would last more than 3 months. I was privileged to be part of this team of elite attorneys, and remained deeply involved in preparing my clients and their medical providers for trial.
At trial, the jury was shown evidence that the defendants knew the Duck vehicle was defective and did nothing to prevent this tragedy. We introduced our clients to the jury and gave each an opportunity to tell her story. We used medical testimony when necessary, but mostly allowed our clients to be heard and understood by a jury of their peers – as if anyone who wasn’t involved in a mass casualty incident like this could ever truly understand.
And on February 7, 2019 a King County jury told our clients that what happened to them was wrong. That what happened to them was preventable, and that what they have gone through, and continue to go through, has great value. On February 7, 2019 a King County jury awarded $123 million to our group of 40 plaintiffs, including over $10 million to our two clients from Wisconsin. Today, justice was served.
While no amount of money can ever undo what was done to my clients, money is what the law provides, and I am deeply proud and privileged to have been a part of obtaining compensation for these brave, strong, courageous women, who now somehow have to find a way to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and move on.
I pray that the Duck vehicles are removed from our roadways immediately.