After attorneys had already presented their opening statements, a King County Superior Court judge was notified Wednesday that a $7 million settlement had been reached in a civil suit lodged by a German au pair against Ride the Ducks International and Ride the Ducks Seattle. She was critically injured in a 2015 crash that killed five people.
Carolin Scholz, now 23, was a passenger in a Ride the Ducks vehicle that plowed into a chartered bus carrying North Seattle College international students on the Aurora Bridge on Sept. 24, 2015. The force of the crash sent people aboard the Ducks boat flying, and Scholz’s face was crushed against the vehicle’s metal dashboard, said David Beninger, her Seattle attorney.
Scholz, who was in court Wednesday, has undergone several surgeries to repair her face, and has many more still to come, Beninger said. But the tougher job may be healing her spirit, he said.
Also Wednesday, attorneys for Ride the Ducks International (RTDI), the Branson, Missouri-based manufacturer of the Duck amphibious vehicle, and Ride the Ducks of Seattle, which operated the tour vehicle, announced they plan to withdraw their appeal of a $123 million jury verdict awarded to 40 other plaintiffs in February. Awards to each of the 40 plaintiffs will range from $40,000 to $25 million.
Unlike the earlier civil court case, Beninger said the case involving Scholz included a larger focus on consumer protection and public safety.
“We used our role to wrap up the much broader court case. It allows Carolin to feel she was able to help other people get closure as well,” Beninger said. “During opening statements, I said, ‘This wasn’t an accident. It was an accident waiting to happen. It was not a matter of moments or even months of bad decisions, but a matter of years of missed opportunities and bad choices.'”
In the larger, 2016 lawsuit filed on behalf of 40 people who were injured or killed in the crash, the plaintiffs claimed that the former owner of RTDI scavenged parts from junkyards and improvised flawed fixes for the Duck vehicles, though he was not a mechanic or an engineer.
Ride the Ducks of Seattle failed to inspect and maintain the amphibious vehicle properly, the suit claimed. In particular, the plaintiffs argued, the company ignored a 2013 service bulletin from the manufacturer warning of a flaw in the axle and recommending a fix. The state Attorney General ultimately blamed the crash on a broken axle.
Attorney Jack Snyder of RTDI claimed during the trial earlier this year that the company had identified the problem before the crash, discovered a fix, made the needed alterations to the vehicles it owned and issued an alert to other Duck-vehicle operators.
All the other Ducks licensees and franchisees, except for Seattle, made the fix, he said at the time.
Ride the Ducks of Seattle claimed that the manufacturer peppered it with service bulletins that did not differentiate between trivial recommendations and urgent safety warnings.
In addition, a welding expert called to the stand by Ride the Ducks of Seattle testified that even if the Seattle company had added a collar of metal around the weak axle, as recommended by RTDI, it would not have prevented the axle failure.
The September 2015 crash happened when a World War II-era duck vehicle crossed the centerline of Seattle’s Aurora Bridge and plowed into a charter bus full of international students. The crash killed five North Seattle College international students who were on a chartered bus headed to downtown Seattle for orientation: 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.
Last year, the manufacturer and the Seattle company settled for $8.25 million a suit that was filed on behalf of four plaintiffs, including the family of one passenger who was killed.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.