Ride The Ducks Wrongful Death

October 2, 2015

In Philadelphia, tourists can take a sightseeing trip aboard an oddly shaped amphibious vehicle called a Duck. Ride The Ducks has locations in Philly, three other cities, and Guam, and other similar Duck tour companies are located throughout the United States. Some people wonder, though, whether these vehicles should be permanently placed in dry dock.

In May, a Ride the Ducks vehicle fatally struck a pedestrian in Philadelphia. In Seattle, two drivers of Duck vehicles rear-ended cars stopped at intersections and told police they had not seen the cars, because of the Ducks’ height. And in the worst tourism-related Duck accident, in 1999, the Miss Majestic vehicle sank near Hot Springs, Ark., killing 13 of the 21 people on board.

The recreational Duck vehicles are based on a design that was never intended to ferry tourists through city streets: military DUKW vehicles. DUKWs were built to shuttle U.S. Army troops from ship to shore during World War II, and they were adopted for tourism purposes sometime around 1950. Today, the Philadelphia Duck operator uses new vehicles that are constructed to look like the original DUKW, but even though the technology may be new, the design is fundamentally the same, and its blind spots and buoyancy problems may put people at risk of injury.

Maintenance and Defects

In its investigation of the Miss Majestic accident, the National Transportation Safety Board cited poor maintenance as a contributing factor, along with the vehicle’s canopy, which may have prevented passengers from escaping the sinking vehicle. The NTSB also cited improper maintenance as a factor in the sinking of the Minnow in Lake Michigan, in 2000. No one was injured in that accident.

In July 2010, a tugboat collided with a stranded Ride The Ducks boat in the Delaware River. Two Duck boat passengers died when the boat sank. While the NTSB found a tugboat crewmember’s inattention was a major contributing cause in the crash, faulty maintenance of the Duck boat was a factor, too. The NTSB stated that the owner/operator’s failure to ensure the surge tank pressure cap was in place is what caused the boat to overheat and subsequently have to drop anchor in a heavily traveled section of the river.

DUKW vehicles lack reserve buoyancy, which means that when they take on water, they tend to sink faster than other watercraft. Accordingly, the NTSB has recommended Duck boats add buoyancy, but they are not legally required to do so.

In the United Kingdom, two Duck vehicles sank within a three-month period in 2013. The UK does have laws regarding the minimum acceptable levels of residual buoyancy, but investigators found neither boat met those requirements, and one boat operator had packed so much buoyancy foam around the boat’s machinery that it caught fire, which was why it sank.

A Complex Machine

It takes some advanced mechanical know-how to properly maintain an amphibious vehicle. When the Army first rolled out the DUKW, soldiers spent weeks learning how to operate them. According to the U.S. Army Transportation Museum, in all, the Army built 21,147 DUKWs during WWII and trained 12,829 soldiers to operate and maintain them.

Improper maintenance and inadequate buoyancy of Ducks can lead to tragedy on the water, and blind spots could put pedestrians and other motorists at risk for serious injury. Perhaps someday soon, laws will be enacted that require Duck boat operators to do more to keep people safe.

If you have any questions about this topic or believe that a faulty tourist attraction is responsible for your injuries, the attorneys at Wapner Newman can help. For almost 40 years, we have been the trusted advocates for countless personal injury victims and their families throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We offer risk-free consultations and work on a contingency basis, which means that we do not require you to pay any fees until we have secured a recovery on your behalf. We encourage you to contact us today by calling 1-800-529-6600 or filling out a free case evaluation form.