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Legal Perspective On the Ride The Ducks Disaster On The Aurora Avenue Bridge in Seattle

Updated on: 2/26/2019

Important Legal Liability & Fault Questions: Seattle 'Ride The Ducks' Tragedy 

On the morning of September 24, 2015 a Ride The Ducks vehicle crashed into a charter bus carrying foreign exchange students on Seattle’s Aurora Bridge.  The accident killed 4 people, critically injured 12, and more than 30 other people suffered other, non-life-threatening injuries.   

The survivors barely escaped with their lives are left with lasting injuries.  The families that lost loved ones in this horrible crash are left with painful loss and sorrow. 

'Ride The Ducks' Lawsuits & Legal Claims

Victims and survivors alike want and need conclusive answers.  And the general public wants to know how to address public safety concerns so this kind of accident never happens again.  In order to pursue the truth, get questions answered, determine responsibility and demand accountability it may be necessary to litigate in the future. There will undoubtedly be legal claims and lawsuits filed in the weeks and months to come. 

Davis Law Group has handled numerous cases involving commercial vehicles, transit operators, etc.  Our firm has also handled many cases that required NTSB investigations, such as the Skagit River Bridge Collapse case.  Therefore we are very familiar with the legal inquires that are frequently made in such cases.  Below is a simple, high-level perspective of the legal questions that need to be asked and answered. 

Special Report: Ride The Ducks Accident Victims Guide: General Advice for Survivors of the Seattle ‘Ride The Ducks’ Collision (pdf)

Getting Answers: What Was The Cause of the 'Ride The Ducks' Accident in Seattle?

Was the catastrophe caused by something that a party did or failed to do?  Was this accident caused by a mechanical malfunction or driver error?  Were there warning signs that no one failed to notice?  Was this accident caused by the failure of one person or a ‘cascade of failures’ involving numerous individuals or a lack of safety measures?  At this point we don’t have conclusive answers to any of these questions. 

If none of the potential at-fault parties step-up and accept responsibility then litigation may be necessary to uncover the truth.  Investigation reports, facts/evidence, testimony under oath, and expert analysis will help uncover what really happened.  In order to pursue the truth, get questions answered, determine responsibility and demand accountability it may be necessary to file a lawsuit(s).

We must wait for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)’s final investigation report.  When the report is issued we will see the NTSB’s findings which will determine probable cause and they will likely release safety recommendations to prevent future accidents.  Previous investigations of other duck boat crashes found “an unacceptable level of risk to passenger safety.”  Will this investigation have similar findings?

In cases where a commercial vehicle is found to be at fault for an accident, there may be legitimate legal claims to be made against the driver; the company (local and/or parent company); officers of the company; vendor/contractor companies that provide maintenance; and/or governmental entities related to the oversight and regulation of the commercial vehicle.

29 Questions About The 'Ride The Ducks' Crash

Below are a number of questions that we believe should and must be answered through the course of the investigation.  The answers to these questions will have a tremendous impact on any legal claims made by the victim/survivors of this crash.

The original duck boat, with a standard Army six-wheel truck frame and a propellor, was designed to ferry troops and material from warships to land during World War II. Are the duck boats completely outdated by today’s safety standards?  Should the design and operation of these boats be changed to meet modern standards? 

  • If duck boat mechanical error was the cause of the accident, was it caused by a failure to properly maintain the vehicle?
  • When was the duck boat vehicle last serviced?
  • Was vehicle service work done by a company-employed maintenance worker or a contractor?
  • How old were the vehicles' tires?  
  • When was the duck boat’s tire pressure last checked?  
  • When was the last time the tires were rotated?  
  • Who performed tire maintenance?
  • The owner of Ride The Ducks has been quoted as saying that the vehicles get safety checks at the beginning and the end of each day. Who did the safety check that morning?
  • Does more than one person check the vehicles?
  • What are the safety check procedures?
  • When was the vehicle last inspected by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)?
  • When was the vehicle last inspected by the US Coast Guard?  
  • What, if any, issues were identified in the latest inspections?
  • Did the duck boat vehicle have seat belts?  If not, were they/should they have been required for highway driving?  If not, why not?
  • What, if any, safety recommendations were issued previously by the NTSB in response to prior duck boat collisions in other states?
  • Were any policy, safety or maintenance changes made by the duck boat franchisor or franchisees in response to previous NTSB recommendations?  If not, why?
  • If the accident was caused by duck boat captain/driver/tour-guide error, was he impaired by drugs or alcohol?
  • Did the driver experience a medical emergency?
  • Was the driver distracted by a mobile phone?
  • Was the driver distracted by his "entertainment routine"?  Was he engaged in his comedic routine, costume/hat change, etc. at the time of the crash?
  • Was the duck vehicle on its regular route or had it detoured?
  • How long had the driver been employed by ride the duck?
  • How much training and/or experience did the driver have?
  • Was there debris or some sort of hazard in the road?
  • Did the duck vehicle hit something before losing control and hitting the tour bus?
  • Did the tour bus have seat belts? If so, were the passengers wearing them?
  • How often have duck vehicles been involved in accidents?  What is their safety record?
  • Could/should the driver been able to avoid the collision?
  • Was the duck vehicle over-loaded?

Again, these are JUST A FEW of the numerous questions that need to be asked and answered in the pursuit of justice in this case.

How The 'Ride The Ducks' Website Describes Their Safety Precautions

The following quotes were taken from the Ride The Duck Website on the morning of September 25, 2015.  The company may or may not change the text of the website in the future. So you may find different text on the website if you visit after this date.

According to the Ride the Ducks of Seattle website:

  • “Our entertaining Captains hold both a 25-ton Merchant Mariner Masters’ license (yes, they are real Coast Guard-certified Captains!) and a commercial driver’s license, so don’t fret, before you even step on board your fun-filled tour of Seattle, your Captain has completed an intense and rigorous training program!"
  • "Safety is our #1 priority so their training starts with the United States Coast Guard’s “Rules of the Road” and how to safely operate a big-rig around the hilly streets of Seattle."
  • "Each applicant must be able to document at least one hundred twenty (120) total days of boating experience over their lifetime with at least forty-five (45) of those days in the last three (3) years. Documentation can be in the form of a USCG Sea Service form (available from the USCG here), a letter from the boat owner, or a letter from a former employer."
  • "Here at Ride the Ducks of Seattle, we pride ourselves on having the safest DUKW fleet in the world. Our fleet of DUKWs is annually inspected by the USCG and bi-annually by the DOT and our paperwork files are audited frequently by both organizations."
  • "There are redundant safety systems onboard and in fact, our Operations Manual has been used as a prototype for amphibious tours around the country. Our goal is always to exceed the requirements of regulatory agencies and set the standard for others to follow."
  • "This level of safety requires an excellent team of heavy-duty maintenance technicians for preventative maintenance throughout the year and thorough annual inspections during the winter. All our vehicles carry a Certificate of Inspection (COI), showing that each vehicle was rigorously inspected by the Coast Guard on an annual basis."
  • "Our team requires that you are an experienced gas and/or diesel mechanic with expertise in diagnosis and repair of both mechanical and electrical problems, as well as preventative maintenance. It is helpful if you also have experience re-building engines, transfer cases and drive-trains."
  • "While our tours may appear to be focused on the entertainment side of the business, safety is always our #1 concern and we take it very seriously. All our Captains hold a United States Coast Guard Master’s license, as well as a commercial driver’s license, are CPR and First Aid certified and must complete a rigorous training program before any paying-passengers board their Duck."
  • We are continually performing preventative maintenance and inspecting the Ducks to ensure that the highest standards of safety by both the DOT and the USCG are exceeded. Our first priority is to ensure that our vehicles are the safest on Seattle’s roads and in the water.


  • "Maintenance Team & Guest Services Team." Ride The Ducks of Seattle. Ride the Ducks of Seattle, 25 Sept. 2015. Web. 25 Sept. 2015. .
  • "Story of Ride The Ducks." Ride The Ducks of Seattle. Ride the Ducks of Seattle, 25 Sept. 2015. Web. 25 Sept. 2015. .
  • "Wacky Captains." Ride The Ducks of Seattle. Ride the Ducks of Seattle, 25 Sept. 2015. Web. 25 Sept. 2015.

Special Report: Ride The Ducks Accident Victims Guide: General Advice for Survivors of the Seattle ‘Ride The Ducks’ Collision (pdf)

Information is coming out now that there was a recommendation the front axles shafts be replaced over tow years ago. None of Ducks in this fleet was repaired. If you notice the front driver wheel has come off and this was not the side that impacted the bus. The NTSB says it can take over a year but with the failed parts in hand it shouldn't take that long.Being in and out of the water constantly will cause premature failure on any Item that requires lubrication .Water wears away the grease and you have bearings that fail and then things fall off. It's really not that hard to figure out.
by Joe October 4, 2015 at 10:22 AM
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