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Ask Our Lawyer - November 2003

Q: My buddy wants to borrow my bike for a ride to Florida. He lost his license a couple of years ago and says he just got it back. Although he's been riding for years, he's never gotten his motorcycle endorsement and has had several accidents. He told me his insurance would cover the bike, but I'm kind of nervous about letting him on my bike.

A: And you should be, too. As we all know, most riders are extremely safety conscious, taking care to make sure that their bikes are in tip-top shape and that their skills remain sharp and focused. Unfortunately, there are those who don't take those responsibilities seriously. While we are generally not our brother's keeper, if we allow someone who shouldn't be riding on our bike, his problem becomes our problem.
Generally, a vehicle owner is not responsible for the actions a person who is operating the vehicle. However, most states also recognize cases of negligent entrustment, which happens when an owner allows someone to operate the owner's vehicle when that person is not qualified to do so. Allowing your buddy to take your bike may make you responsible for any accident he causes, if it turns out that he was unqualified and that we should have known that he was unqualified.

ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL

A recent tragedy near Cincinnati gives me pause to reflect on two different thoughts tied by a common theme. A group of our people were out on the highways, enjoying a benefit ride and beautiful day. Tragedy struck when a motorist, who "claims" he doesn't know what happened, plowed into the group of riders. The injuries were horrific, and the toll, in terms of lives and limbs, has not yet been fully counted.
There are two elements that make this story so tragic. First, "if in fact" the motorist was asleep at the wheel, this tragedy was preventable. Common sense, and a realistic evaluation of one's physical condition, could have stopped this driver before the accident occurs. This is a lesson to all of us to listen to that little voice that tells us to take a break, rest for a while, and get recharged before you get back on the road. Even professional truck drivers have limits on the amount of time they can spend behind the wheel. Remember also that some employers may also require that workers who drive for them spend more time behind the wheel than can be safely done. Who pays the price then? Bikers do, and we all know that it's not a fair fight between a two-wheeler and four-wheeler. We should let those employers go explain their actions to the beautiful young woman who lost her leg or the loved ones of the person who was killed. As long as I shall live, I will never be competent to that.
But there is another tragedy, the tragedy of inadequate insurance coverages. We should take care when we buy our policies and make sure we have sufficient coverage, should tragedy befall us. Our friends, our riders, our comrades, may be underinsured motorists. If the policy limits are high enough, they can make a claim under their own policies for underinsured motorist benefits. The second tragedy is if we buy policies with low limits. We cannot rely on others to maintain sufficient limits to compensate us - we must take the initiative and make sure we are covered ourselves. Only then can we prevent tragedy from compounding tragedy.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK!

A counter-point from Illinois police officer Al Clark, a longtime ABATE member, and a wonderful friend:

I read with great interest the latest article by Rod Taylor about a "Rogue Cop" in rural Effingham County in Illinois. As a Police Officer and Police Trainer, I read some things in this article that I deal with on a daily basis on the streets in my beat, which are then used in training new police recruits at the academy. Of course, one first needs to realize that everyone has their own perceptions of how an event occurs. So since we have not heard from the arresting officer, I thought I would take some time to bring out a few points.
The statute Doc was cited for violating is 625 ILCS (Illinois Compiled Statutes) 5/12-602, Mufflers, prevention of noise. To quote the statute,

Every motor vehicle driven or operated upon the highways of this State shall at all times be equipped with an adequate muffler or exhaust system in constant operation and properly maintained to prevent any excessive or unusual noise. No such muffler or exhaust system shall be equipped with a cutout, bypass or similar device. No person shall modify the exhaust system of a motor vehicle in a manner which will amplify or increase the noise of such vehicle above that emitted by the muffler originally installed, and such original muffler shall comply with all the requirements of this section.

This is the exact wording in the statute. I read no mention of "testing" the pipes for any type of decibel reading to see if the pipes are in compliance or not. Plus, as officers, we only need to see the violation, we don't need to have a citizen's complaint. This is not to say that every police officer in this state is going to pull you over for this violation and cite you, nor does it mean that the officer who cited Doc is a rogue cop. Ride safe out there.

Al Clark, thank you for your input. I can only say that Al may be a cop, but he's our cop - and Al, I respectfully disagree, where the reason for the law does not exist, the law should not be enforced. That police officer had better things to do!

TRAVELERS STRIKE ABATE MEMBER!

I received an inquiry from a long-time ABATE member who has a problem. She contracted with a guy to build a garage for her. He said that he would help her fill out forms for a home-equity loan, and then she could write him checks for the materials and supplies. She wrote him two checks, which he promptly cashed. He also just as promptly disappeared and was last heard from in Georgia. Our member wanted to know what she could do to either get her money back or get the garage built.
Unfortunately, there is probably not much she can do. Most likely, her contractor is part of a group of home-repair scam artists known as Travelers. The Travelers move from place to place, doing various home-improvement activities, and more often then not, take the money and disappear. They are extremely difficult to pursue and bring to justice. If he will voluntarily return to finish the job, great. The odds of that, however, are vanishingly small. The other alternative is to file a complaint with the state's Consumer Protection Division. Michael Beason of the ABATE Legal Services team spent several years in the Consumer Protection Division and notes that there are several interstate and interagency task forces that focus on the problem of Travelers. Get the number and file a complaint. The rule should be: NEVER, NEVER, NEVER give a contractor money up front - even for materials. If a contractor requests money up front - get another contractor. Contractors are protected from non-payment by lien rights provided by law.


Ride safe and free,
Rod Taylor
ABATE Legal Services

If you have any questions you would like to ask the lawyer, please submit them to: ASK OUR LAWYER, P.O. Box 2850, Indianapolis, Indiana 46206_2850, or email rodtaylor@abatelegal.com.

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