Ride the Ducks Seattle, which never recovered financially after a devastating 2015 crash on the Aurora Bridge that killed five people and injured more than 60, has closed and filed for bankruptcy.
The local tourist attraction filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy — which does not involve a repayment plan like Chapter 13 bankruptcy does — after it closed last month, KING 5 reported.
The company said in a statement when it closed that the financial impact from the crash was “too much for the company to overcome” despite its efforts to hold the manufacturer of the amphibious vehicle involved in the crash accountable.
Ride the Ducks Seattle said it believes that effort will ultimately be successful, but would come too late to save the company.
“While the COVID-19 situation certainly accelerated our decision, we were faced with a set of financial realities that were inescapable,” the statement said.
A lawsuit, which was filed in 2016 on behalf of 42 people who were injured or killed in the crash, named Ride the Ducks Seattle, Ride the Ducks International (RTDI), the city of Seattle and the state of Washington as defendants.
The crash involved a tour bus and a Ride the Ducks vehicle that swerved into oncoming traffic, apparently after a mechanical failure, improper maintenance and loopholes in federal oversight.
Ducks 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.
Ride the Ducks International attorney Jack Snyder claimed during the trial 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.
Ducks Seattle claimed that the manufacturer peppered it with service bulletins that did not differentiate between trivial recommendations and urgent safety warnings.
A King County Superior Court jury in February 2019 determined after a four-month civil trial that Ride the Ducks International bore 67-70% of the responsibility for the crash. The jury also found that Ducks Seattle, which operated the tour vehicle, was 30-33% at fault.
The city of Seattle and the state of Washington were not at fault, the jury decided.
As a result, the jury awarded about $123 million to the victims and their families.
After the crash, the state Utilities and Transportation Committee, which regulates commercial charter buses and tourist vehicles statewide, suspended the local company from operating its 20 tourist vehicles and also found that Ducks Seattle had 463 safety violations.
Ducks Seattle admitted to the 159 critical safety violations and 304 record-keeping violations and agreed to pay $222,000 in penalties to settle the state complaint.
In 2018, the city of Seattle also agreed to pay more than $2 million to the families of 12 victims, although the city had argued that it should not be held liable in the suit because the state, and not the city, bore responsibility for bridge safety. The state also settled with those same 12 families.
RTDI also paid up to $1 million in civil fines for violating federal safety regulations.