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First Lawsuit Filed in Deadly ‘Duck’ Crash

SEATTLE (CN) - A Korean student injured in a deadly crash involving an amphibious "duck boat" on a Seattle bridge sued the tour operator and refurbisher of the vehicles for failing to fix a defective axle.

Five people died and dozens were injured when a Ride the Ducks vehicle crashed into a bus full of college students on September 24.

The vehicles were built during World War II and have been retrofitted to serve as land and water tour vehicles.

Na Ra Yoon, 21, had just arrived in the United States to attend college and was on a charter bus with other North Seattle Community College Students when the duck boat swerved on a narrow bridge and crashed into the bus.

Yoon fractured both her hands in the accident.

She sued the company responsible for retrofitting, Ride the Ducks International, its local franchisee Ride the Ducks of Seattle and the unidentified driver of the duck boat for product liability and negligence.

Early investigations into the crash have focused on the vehicle's front wheel. Witnesses say the vehicle was having mechanical problems with the wheel just before the crash.

The complaint says the Duck companies failed to fix a problem with the axle housing on the vehicle, known as Duck 6, despite issuing a service bulletin about the defect.

"In 2013, Ride the Ducks International became aware that the axle housings on duck boats such as Duck 6 could be dangerously defective; they needed to be thoroughly checked and repaired. Ride the Ducks International published a warning to its own operators in the form of a service bulletin, but it failed to successfully inform its franchisee-Ride the Ducks Seattle," Yoon says in the complaint.

The Duck's Seattle mechanic was not informed about the service bulletin and failed to properly examine the housings, according to the complaint.

Some witnesses said they saw the wheel actually come off prior to impact, the complaint says.

"The route John Doe driver was following on the day of the accident, Sept. 24, 2015, took Duck 6 northbound on State Route 99 over the Aurora Bridge just after 11:00 a.m. Just prior to the accident, John Doe Driver drove Duck 6 northbound on the Aurora Bridge in the middle lane. He signaled his intention to change into the left inside lane. At that moment, Duck 6 apparently had a mechanical failure involving the left front wheel assembly. Eyewitnesses describe an apparent 'blowout,' 'lockup' or the wheel actually coming off. In the aftermath, investigators would find the left front wheel detached from Duck 6 with its axle sheared off completely either just prior to, or as a result of, the impact with the Bellair tour bus," the complaint says.

Yoon was on the tour bus with other new college students being given a tour of Seattle.

"Ms. Yoon has no memory of the impact in the accident. She was knocked unconscious. Her last recollection was looking at her cellphone. The next thing she remembers is waking up sitting on the sidewalk, covered in dust, bleeding, badly bruised over her left eye and her left shoulder/arm, and experiencing extreme pain. Both her hands suffered fractures. Other students were attending her. She was taken by ambulance to the Group Health Hospital on Capitol Hill, where she was examined, treated, and released later that evening with her hands in cast and splint," the complaint says.

Yoon's attorney John Scholbe told the Seattle Times Yoon also suffered a serious blow to the head and was worried about traumatic brain injury.

"The National Transportation and Safety Board has released information about a 2013 service bulletin issued by Ride the Ducks International to our company-owned locations and our licensees regarding a recommended front axle housing repair involving 57 duck vehicles. This bulletin is typical of the ongoing communication we have with all operators of these vehicles, all of which are either owned by Ride the Ducks International or one of our licensees. We had no reason to believe that Seattle had not complied with the bulletin," Ride the Ducks International said a statement after the crash.

"We can say that the operators of the other in-service vehicles covered by the bulletin in Stone Mountain Park, Branson, Newport, Kentucky and Philadelphia had complied. This maintenance work involved inspection and reinforcement of the front axle housing assembly,"

The Seattle Ducks franchise refuses to comment on specific allegations regarding the crash. A statement on its website says it "continues to fully cooperate with the National Transportation Safety Board, the city of Seattle and others to find the cause of this accident."

The Seattle tours are temporarily suspended while the NTSB investigates the crash, according to the franchise's website.

Yoon's complaint seeks general and special damages. The complaint was filed by Charles Herrmann of Herrmann Scholbe.

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