Jury awards duck boat crash survivor $4 million in damages

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FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2015 file photo, a "Ride the Ducks" amphibious tour bus, right, and a charter bus remain at the scene of a multiple fatality collision on the Aurora Bridge in Seattle. A jury in Seattle has awarded $4 million in damages to a Montana woman for injuries she suffered after being ejected from a duck boat tour vehicle in a crash that killed five college students and injured dozens. The Seattle Times reports the jury awarded the money Monday, June 10, 2019, to Rebecca Rhodes West of Billings, Montana. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

SEATTLE (AP) A jury has awarded $4 million in damages to a Montana woman for physical and emotional injuries she suffered after being ejected from a duck boat tour vehicle in a crash that killed five college students and injured dozens nearly four years ago.

The verdict is believed to be the resolution of the final lawsuit after years of litigation involving many of the injured and the families of those killed.

The jury Monday in Seattle found the vehicle's manufacturer, Ride the Ducks International of Missouri, and its operator, Ride the Ducks Seattle, liable for the crash. The vehicle's axle snapped, causing it to crash into an oncoming college tour bus in September 2015.

Jurors assigned 60% of the liability to Ride the Ducks International, with the remaining 40% to the Seattle Ducks, while blaming both for the mechanical problems that led the Duck to lose control.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation previously found that the company's improper manufacture of the vehicle with a defective axle, and the Seattle Ducks' failure to replace it, caused the deadly crash.

The jury on Monday awarded the money to Rebecca Rhodes West of Billings, Montana, The Seattle Times reported .

West's award, along with settlements of $1 million and $750,000 made to her friend and Seattle resident Tami Matson and Matson's daughter, Tiffani Haman, are the latest in a string of multimillion-dollar legal judgments and settlements stemming from the crash.

Last month, the driver of the amphibious vehicle received a $2 million settlement from Ride the Ducks International. In April, a German au pair critically injured in the wreck received a $7 million settlement from the Missouri company and the Seattle Ducks. In February, a jury in Seattle awarded $123 million to victims and family members representing 40 people injured or killed.

"These two corporations have behaved about as irresponsibly as you possibly can," said lawyer Darrell Cochran, who represented West with legal partner Michael Pfau. "Their defense was absurd given that the Duck's wheel sheared off its axle, sending a 26,000-pound World War II artifact into an uncontrollable, catastrophic collision."

Representatives for the Ducks companies did not respond to requests for comment.

West said the money will help cover costs for ongoing medical problems and counseling. She was thrown from the vehicle, hitting the pavement and suffering injuries including a broken foot, shattered tooth and a hematoma covering her hip.

"I couldn't move at all. I just laid there, crying, and I didn't know if I was dead or alive," she said. "I only knew for sure when I heard people screaming and crying, and I could smell the vehicles and everything."

West said she has undergone three hip surgeries. She missed two months of work. Today, her foot remains in a walking boot, and West said she'll never walk the same. She also suffers chronic nerve pain and receives counseling for nightmares and panic attacks.

"What makes me sad is that people died and were injured for life, but it could've been prevented," West said. "It's devastating that it didn't need to happen."

___

Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com

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