On February 7, 2019, Trial Guides contributor Karen Koehler (Preparing for Deposition) completed a four-month trial that resulted in a record $123 million personal injury trial jury verdict in Washington State. Koehler was lead attorney, assisted by second chair Andrew Ackley, and a supporting trial team from the Stritmatter Kessler Koehler Moore law firm.
The case arose out of the September 24, 2015, Ride the Ducks crash on the Aurora Bridge in Seattle. An amphibious tour vehicle manufactured by Ride the Ducks International, and operated by Ride the Ducks Seattle, suffered a catastrophic axle fracture. The amphibious tour vehicle (duck) crossed the centerline and speared a motorcoach traveling in the opposite direction. The duck carried tourists. The bus carried international students. Both groups were on sightseeing trips. Five of the students were killed, and another seventy were injured. Koehler represented forty-four victims—including three of the death cases in trial. Multiple co-counsel for members of the group also provided support but delegated trial presentation to Koehler. Four of the cases, including one of the death cases, were settled early in the trial by co-counsel for $8.5 million.
The trial involved claims of negligence, common carrier negligence, product liability, and highway design. The State and City were also sued for lack of a median barrier. But the focus of the trial was always on the duck companies. The jury ultimately found no fault by the governmental entities.
Defense motions had been made to bifurcate the trial, to try it in a style similar to class actions with bellweather plaintiffs. The court rejected these proposals and allowed the case to proceed with forty-four individual plaintiffs banded together through trial counsel. Plaintiffs flew in from around the country and world to testify, often with interpreters. On average, one plaintiff story was told each day of trial. Liability and damages were fully mixed with no separation.
The trial was extremely visual, from Koehler donning a captain’s hat and duck whistle during opening to a jury view of the vehicles off-site, skype testimony, onboard bus camera video, audio police interview, hundreds of photos, documents, life-size body boards, charts, and powerpoint slide shows for each witness.
During trial, the duck defendants’ last offer was a high-low of $15 million to $30 million for the remaining forty claims. As a group, the total amount of special damages awarded was $10 million, with general damages of $110 million, and net loss to the estate of $3.5 million. Punitive damages are not allowed in Washington State. Plaintiffs’ request for punitive damages under a conflict of law theory as against RTDI in Missouri was denied.
The two duck companies have appealed the verdict and posted the full bond plus interest.
Trial Guides wants to congratulate Karen Koehler on a great trial outcome on behalf of her clients.
By: Karen Koehler
DVD - $185