CVN screenshot of plaintiffs' attorney Karen Koehler delivering her opening statement
Seattle, WA - A Washington state court jury heard opening statements Tuesday in the first trial over a crash involving a ‘Duck boat” amphibious tour vehicle that left five people dead and more than 60 injured.
The sprawling trial, which includes claims from more than 40 individuals killed or injured in the crash, could take up to six months to complete, and the full proceedings are being webcast gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.
The accident occurred on Seattle’s Aurora Bridge in 2015, when a “Ride The Ducks” vehicle crossed into oncoming traffic and collided with a tour bus. Duck boats are repurposed World War II-era vehicles that can drive on roads and also function as a boat.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Karen Koehler, at times donning a white nautical hat to take on the persona of a duck boat pilot, told jurors the crash was caused by a broken axle on the duck boat that could have been prevented, and the lack of a median divider on the road. The lawsuit includes Ride the Ducks International and Ride the Ducks Seattle as defendants, in addition to the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Seattle Department of Transportation.
Attorneys for the national and local Ride the Ducks defendants blamed each other for the crash during their opening statements, disputing the relevance of a 2013 service bulletin warning of potential wheel axle failures.
Attorneys for the city and state asked to deliver their opening statements after the plaintiffs’ presentation concludes.
Koehler described to jurors how Ride the Ducks International scoured junkyards and old vehicles to find parts for their aging duck boats, despite the company owner overseeing those refurbishments not being an engineer or a mechanic. She also accused the local Seattle office of ignoring the 2013 service bulletin, while arguing that a median divider could have prevented many of the deaths and injuries in the crash.
“Choices were made, decisions were made, that cost lives,” she said, according to CVN’s webcast of the trial.
Jack Snyder, an attorney for Ride the Ducks International, told jurors the company became aware of potential issues with wheel axles on their vehicles as a result of their diligent safety monitoring, and that it was up to the local company actually operating the vehicles to carry out the necessary repairs.
Ride the Ducks International “saw an issue and did something about it” Snyder insisted.
An attorney for Ride the Ducks Seattle, Pat Buchanan, countered that the national office would inundate them with service bulletins, many containing “trivial” information like suggestions for tying side curtains in an aesthetically pleasing way.
“It’s one thing to get a service bulletin,” Buchanan said. “It’s another to get 20 of them in a day or a month.”
Witness testimony then began with the driver of the duck boat, Eric Bishop, who claimed he suddenly found himself unable to move the steering wheel or use the brakes, despite standing to put all his weight on the controls.
“In a blink of an eye, I just said, 'oh no!' And then I tried to maintain control of the duck. I tried to get it back. I tried to regain control of the thing and I just couldn’t," Bishop testified.
The lengthy trial, which could stretch until the Spring of 2019, is taking place before Judge Catherine Shaffer, and the full proceedings are available live and on demand to CVN subscribers.
Dinh, et al. v. Ride The Ducks International, et al., case number 15-2-28905-F SEA in King County Superior Court.
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