Three students seriously injured when a Ride the Ducks tourist vehicle crashed into a charter bus on Seattle’s Aurora Bridge in September now seek to hold the city and state partly responsible for the deadly accident.

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Three students seriously injured when a Ride the Ducks tourist vehicle crashed into a charter bus on Seattle’s Aurora Bridge in September now seek to hold the city and state partly responsible for the deadly accident.

Crash victims Phuong Dinh, Mazda Hutapea and Yuta Masumota are already suing two Duck excursion companies and the driver of the tourist vehicle that crashed. If a judge grants motions filed by their lawyer in King County Superior Court last week, the amended lawsuits would add the city of Seattle and state of Washington as co-defendants.

The motions allege that both governments also are liable because for years they’ve failed to address known problems with the stretch of roadway where the crash occurred. The segment of Highway 99 over the Aurora Bridge is a dangerously narrow roadway without a median barrier to prevent crossover collisions, said the victims’ lawyer, Karen Koehler.

“They’ve admitted it’s dangerous, they know it’s dangerous, and they’ve actually come up with suggestions for how to fix this bridge,” Koehler said during a recent interview. “But they never fixed it, and our experts are just appalled at how bad this bridge is.”

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The city also has authority to regulate the routes taken by tourist vehicles within Seattle, but despite knowing for years about the bridge’s safety hazards, it allowed the oversize Ducks to repeatedly travel across the span, the victims contend.

The amended suits would be the first attempts to hold the city and state liable for the Sept. 24 crash that killed five international students and injured dozens of other people after the crowded Duck tourist vehicle careened across the bridge’s center lane and slammed broadside into the oncoming bus filled with North Seattle College students.

Lawyers for the city and state said Tuesday they had not seen Koehler’s pleadings, but noted that each government would be prepared to defend against any potential claim or lawsuit stemming from the crash.

“I understand the general outline of what happened in this accident is that it appears that a mechanical malfunction caused the Duck to swerve across the centerline and crash into the charter bus,” said Washington Assistant Attorney General Steve Puz. “That is not a problem with the road, but a problem with the Duck.”

The National Transportation Safety Board — one of several agencies to investigate the deadly wreck — found in a preliminary report that a defective axle on the Duck failed as it crossed the bridge, causing the crash.

Ride the Ducks International of Atlanta, which refurbished the World War II-era Duck vehicle, had issued a service bulletin recommending a repair to the Duck’s axle after selling it to Ride the Ducks of Seattle, an independent company and Ducks licensee. The local excursion firm did not make the recommended axle repair, investigators have determined.

In her motion, Koehler contends the city and state also are partly to blame for the crash because both governments have long neglected the aging and narrow Aurora Bridge despite knowing it poses safety hazards.

The 84-year-old, nearly 3,000-foot-long Aurora Bridge has long drawn complaints from motorists. The state’s Department of Transportation issued a report in 2003 that recommended widening the bridge’s traffic lanes and installing a median barrier. But that suggested overhaul, estimated to cost $29 million, was never pursued.

A Seattle Times analysis of state bridge data last year determined the Aurora Bridge is the narrowest six-lane highway span in the state.

Shortly after the crash, Seattle DOT Director Scott Kubly presented statistics to show the Aurora Bridge is relatively safe compared with other Seattle bridges. The bridge, which carries some 70,000 vehicles per day, had a lower collision rate in recent years than the Ballard Bridge, the Fremont Bridge and spans on Lake City Way and Rainier Avenue South, Kubly said during a presentation to the City Council last October.

Koehler’s pleadings contend WSDOT “classified the bridge as a High-Accident Corridor (HAC) for more than a decade before the crash,” adding the span is “located within the third-worst HAC in the State.”

State governments can be impervious to lawsuits due to sovereign immunity, a legal doctrine that generally protects them from civil liability and criminal prosecution.

Koehler said “immunity doesn’t exist” in this case because each government failed in basic public-safety duties.

“The law says they have to provide reasonably safe roadways,” she said. “This road is not only inherently dangerous, but it’s absolutely dangerous.”

Koehler represents eight people injured during the crash: four international students who were charter-bus passengers and four tourists who had been riding in the Duck. Several other claims and lawsuits over the crash also have been filed, or are expected to be filed, by other attorneys.

In January, Ride the Ducks of Seattle returned 10 Ducks — half its fleet — to service after receiving approval from the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC).

The “Truck Duck” vehicles now back in service are modern replicas of the vintage World War II-era “Stretch Ducks,” such as the one that crashed. The firm’s Stretch Ducks remain suspended from operation.

Before the 10 Ducks returned to Seattle’s roadway, the company and the city agreed to new routes for the tourist vehicles that avoid the Aurora Bridge.

Unless Ride the Ducks reaches a settlement with the state, the company faces another UTC hearing in May to determine the amount of penalties it owes for violating 442 motor carrier safety laws or rules, UTC spokeswoman Amanda Maxwell said Tuesday. The violations — mostly paperwork errors — were found during a state probe after the crash.

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