Jury finds ‘Ride the Ducks’ negligent in 2015 crash that killed five people

SEATTLE -- A jury has awarded about $123 million to victims and families in a 2015 duck boat crash that killed five college students and wounded more than 60 others in Seattle.

The jury began reviewing mounds of evidence and testimony on Jan. 28, deliberating for more than a week before handing down the verdict Thursday afternoon.

The plaintiffs were awarded compensation from tens of thousands to millions. One woman who survived the crash was awarded $25 million.

Lawyers who represented the victims and their families accused Ride the Ducks of gross negligence and failing to maintain its fleet of duck boats -- vehicles that can travel on land and on water.

King County Superior Court jurors after a four-month civil trial found that Ride the Ducks International bore 67 percent of the responsibility for the crash.

The city of Seattle and the state of Washington were found not to be at fault.

Five college students died and dozens were injured when a duck boat swerved and crashed into an oncoming college tour bus on the Aurora bridge after an apparent mechanical failure on Sept. 24, 2015. Claudia Derschmidt, 49, of Austria; Privando Putradanto, 18, of Indonesia; Runjie Song, 17, of China; Mami Sato, 36, of Japan; and HaRam Kim, 20, of South Korea, all died in the crash.

Evidence showed that two years before the accident, there was a service bulletin that recommended an inspection and repairs to the same axle that failed when the crash happened.

The civil trial lasted for more than three months and included emotional testimony from family members of the victims and the CEO of Ride the Ducks Seattle, among many other witnesses who took the stand.

The lawsuit was filed in 2016 on behalf of 42 people who were injured or killed. Ride the Ducks Seattle, Ride the Ducks International, the City of Seattle and the State of Washington are all named as defendants in the suit.

Following the verdict, Ride the Duck Seattle issued the following statement to Q13 News:

“Since the tragic accident on September 24, 2015, Ride the Ducks of Seattle owners, management and team members have always wanted to do right by everyone affected by the accident, but have been limited by constraints in the legal process. Today, they jury’s verdict puts us one step closer to that goal. There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t think of those lives that were forever changed that day. 

"Since the accident, we’ve made significant structural changes to the critical parts our vehicles and instituted a program of regular testing, done in addition to inspections conducted by the state and United States Coast Guard. We’ve done a top-to-bottom review of our operations and have unilaterally made a series of changes including removing the Aurora Bridge from our route.

"We’ve been working hard to regain the trust of those we serve and will continue to do so in the future.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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