The maker of the amphibious vehicle involved in a deadly 2015 crash on the Aurora Bridge has been sued by its locally based franchisee, Ride the Ducks Seattle.
The Seattle outfit alleges that Georgia-based Ride the Ducks International knew, or should have known, its “Stretch Duck” vehicles had a critical defect in the front axle housing that caused numerous failures over more than a decade, according to the lawsuit, which was filed last month in King County Superior Court and transferred to federal court.
The Stretch Duck was loaded with tourists on Sept. 24, 2015, when the flawed axle broke and the wheel fell off, causing the vehicle to careen across Highway 99 into a charter bus full of international students from North Seattle College. Five students were killed and dozens of other people were injured.
A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation determined Ride the Ducks International (RTDI) had failed to notify federal transportation regulators and issue a required recall of the vehicles after discovering the defective front axles.
Instead, RTDI inspected and modified the affected vehicles it owned and issued an October 2013 service bulletin notifying customers, including Ride the Ducks Seattle, about the defect and a potential remedy.
Ride the Ducks Seattle failed to make the recommended repair, federal investigators found.
Both Ride the Ducks International and its Seattle franchisee were found liable in a massive lawsuit in which jurors awarded $123 million to survivors of the crash and the families of those who perished.
In this new suit, Ride the Ducks Seattle seeks triple damages from the parent company, claiming RTDI and its owners knew of the axle housing defect as early as 2003 — a decade before sending the service bulletin — but went on selling the vehicles anyway.
RTDI knew the Stretch Duck vehicles’ flawed axle had a 10% failure rate and decided — without input from engineers or other experts, and without telling customers — to weld a piece of metal over the known weak point, the suit alleges.
The 2013 alert didn’t adequately explain how to make the repair or the potential consequences of not making it, Ride the Ducks Seattle claims in the suit, which names RTDI, owner Chris Herschend, his wife and Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation as defendants.
The suit further alleges the parent company knew the Seattle franchisee hadn’t performed the recommended tab fix because RTDI manufactured and sold the repair parts and Herschend had “directed RTDI staff to not provide the parts for free” to its customers.
Attorneys for the defendants did not immediately return a call seeking comment.