A Superior Court judge ruled Friday she will not allow for punitive damages in the civil suit for the Ride the Ducks crash.
Judge Catherine Shaffer said the case did not meet the high bar for punitive damages, which Washington state typically does not allow.
Punitive damages would go beyond just compensating an injured passenger. They are meant to punish the defendant for acts that are more than negligent. If allowed, punitive damages could substantially increase the money awarded to the plaintiffs.
For the first time, lawyers for Seattle's Ride The Ducks and victims of the 2015 Aurora Bridge crash met face-to-face in court Friday.
Five people died, and dozens were injured after a Ride the Ducks amphibious vehicle crashed into a tour bus on Seattle's Aurora Bridge in September 2015.
The plaintiffs argued because much of the rebuild that was done on the Ride the Ducks vehicle involved in the crash was in Missouri, where Ride the Ducks International is based, that the judge should base her decision on Missouri law, which allows for punitive damages.
"Duck number 6 is a stretch duck," said plaintiffs' attorney Karen Koehler, who described the work done in Missouri. "So not only did they rebuild the axles, they cut it down the middle added 15 inches so they could get another seat or two in, and soldered the thing back together."
But Ride the Ducks International attorney Scott Wakefield countered that for more than ten years, maintenance for the vehicle occurred here, with Ride the Ducks Seattle another co-defendant. He argued that the accident and the injuries all happened here.
"The center of gravity of this case is in Washington state, and there is no reason to apply Missouri law in this situation," Wakefield said.
The judge agreed, adding she has seen no evidence Ride the Ducks tried to conceal it had a defective product. And therefore, Missouri law doesn't apply.
"On everything I see here, this is a Washington case governed by Washington law. But the potential damages, in this case, are still extraordinarily significant," Shaffer told the court.
Earlier this year, a King County judge granted a request from the victims' attorney to add the owner of Ride the Ducks Seattle, Brian Tracey, personally to the case.
The attorney's motion depositions from Ducks employees indicate Tracey ignored maintenance staff warnings about mechanical problems.
Tracey's lawyer said an engineering report completely exonerates Ride the Ducks and Tracey fostered an environment that always placed safety first.