The worst mass transit disaster in Seattle history was unlike anything before it. An amphibious vehicle full of tourists broke an axle and rammed into a motor coach full of sightseeing international students. Three and half years later, 40 of the victims of the crash represented by Stritmatter Firm trial counsel obtained a record-setting $123 million verdict. These are the stories of the unimaginable carnage and loss, and the civil justice system at work. For more on the Ride the Ducks case and trial, see our Ride the Ducks page.
Part I: Sudden Silence
September 24, 2015, Seattle, Washington. Approximately 11 a.m.
A motor coach full of international exchange students from North Seattle College is traveling southbound on a sightseeing trip as part of student orientation. Most of the students are teenagers. They meet, talk, and start to make friends while visiting the sites in their new home city. They are passing candy around the bus.
An amphibious “Duck” vehicle full of tourists from all over the country and the world is traveling northbound on Seattle’s Aurora Bridge, a national historic site over Lake Washington. Music is blaring around the driver’s ebullient narration. World War II amphibious vehicles turned into a “party on wheels.” The driver tells his passengers to look to the right—there is a splendid view of Lake Union and the Cascades.
Suddenly the Duck’s axle fractures and the driver loses steering and braking. The vehicle swerves left across the center line.
The prow of the Duck boat pierces the side of the motor coach at 35 miles per hour, then propels the Duck upward. Coming back down, the Duck tips to its side, dumping out eleven passengers, before finally coming to a rest on three of its wheels.
In the moments before anyone could comprehend the carnage, the entire bridge was silent, except for the discordant echo of the Duck’s “party on wheels” music, still playing.