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Ask Our Lawyer - January 2005

A BIKER’S CHRISTMAS STORY

A wonderful start for the New Year.

As you might guess, insurance companies and a biker’s lawyer rarely see eye-to-eye; honestly, this lawyer has developed a bad attitude towards big insurance companies, and big companies in general.

There is an exception I want to tell you about–Zurich North America Insurance Company and Leisure Lawn. It was right before Christmas when long time motorcyclist, Mike O’Quinn and his wife, Darlene were in a terrible way. Mike had been involved in a motorcycle accident that had left him badly mangled. He earned his living as a transmission builder. He is the kind of guy you would go fishing with, honest, hardworking–a what you see is what you get, kind of person.

Because of the severity of his injuries the O’Quinns were getting to the point of not being able to pay their bills. They faced repossessions, a mortgage foreclosure and a tarnish on their wonderful credit reputation. Healing is tough enough to do when you can pay your own way. It has to be even harder when you can’t.

Mike and Darlene called and asked if we could get the companies responsible for causing his injuries to advance money on their claim without any agreement–so they could pay their bills and have a Christmas. I gave the standard answer that big companies don’t do that–but I would ask anyway. I thought it was probably going to be a waste of time. I was wrong. Certainly, I was wrong about Zurich Insurance Companies and Leisure Lawn. When I made the pitch to Zurich and Leisure Lawn for the O’Quinns, I did not expect to run into the likes of Greg Corman. Not only did he listen, he moved all the rules and regulations to see that the O’Quinns had enough money to pay all their bills for the foreseeable future until Mike’s condition was stable enough so we could agree on an amount for final settlement. These companies, through Greg Corman, made sure the O’Quinns had $40,000.00 on Christmas Eve by Federal Express, without any agreement or signing of any document, whatsoever.

I now have a soft spot for the Zurich Insurance Company, and this summer my yard will be treated by Leisure Lawn and anyone else I can talk into using them.

When I mixed my special Christmas Eve brew, there was a toast on behalf of Mike and Darlene “Merry Christmas to the folks at Zurich and Leisure Lawn, and especially Greg Corman, and have a Wonderful New Year.”

Road Hazards in the School

We here at ABATE Legal Services get all sorts of questions about all sorts of topics, from all sorts of people. A school teacher wrote us recently to assist with a problem her class was researching. Here’s her question:

Q: My class is writing a business letter concerning the gravel that accumulates on the highway from a local gravel company. Many of our parents and 75% of our buses travel this highway. The gravel in the highway is a safety concern. I wanted to use this opportunity for my students to write a letter to the company stating the problem and offering possible solutions. We would like to include facts concerning the company's responsibility in solving this problem. Your web site was chosen by my students after conducting a search for information about road hazards. We would appreciate any information that you have regarding this issue.

A: Thanks for the question. The general common law rule is that a person (or company or business) cannot create a hazardous condition without being responsible for the resulting difficulties. If, for example, a motorcyclist were to hit that gravel patch while otherwise riding safely, the company would be responsible for damages if the motorcyclist were to be injured as a result of sliding on the gravel or losing control due to the gravel in the roadway. A governmental entity could also be responsible if they were aware of the hazard and failed to clean and/or warn of the hazard. That’s why it’s important to notify www.RoadHazard.org of any road hazard. Once we put the governmental agency on notice, they become responsible for clean-up.

When has my tire tread worn out its welcome?

Q: How can you go from a motorcycle tire tread depth of 2/32" [a supposedly safe motorcycle tire] to paper thin in less than 500 miles? I thought the tires were made better today. The tire was absolutely paper thin when it was replaced. If that tire had deflated while I was traveling down the interstate, would the manufacturer have any liability for personal injuries that I may have had because of the sudden wear of that tire?

A: The minimum safe tire tread is 2/32" (or one millimeter for you metric guys). An easy rule of thumb is to take a penny and place it in a tire groove. If the tread is deep enough to reach the top of Lincoln’s head, you have approximately 2/32". Another trick is to measure the wear bars with a ballpoint pen by running the pen through a groove until you hit the wear bar. [They are hard to see, hence the ballpoint pen.] If the tread is even with the wear mark–park it unless you are going to a shop to replace it, and then don’t ride any faster than you are comfortable with in sliding down the road on your hide.

As to the question on how the tire wore so quickly in the last 500 miles, Rick Chupp of Cycle Outfitters (one of the best motorcycle tire suppliers in the country), provides an answer. He believes that the tire grooves provides significant cooling, hence, as the tire wears, less cooling. Remember, the hotter the tire–the faster the wear.

We know of numerous cases of our fellow motorcyclists unknowingly riding on paper-thin tires only to incur a blowout at interstate speeds. The result can be devastating. You don’t just pull over on the side of the road and get off. It does not work that way. A deflation on a rear tire at 70 mph goes approximately as follows:

You could get lucky and get to the shoulder without any problems. Unfortunately, you could notice a mushy handling characteristic, indicating a developing problem. By the time you have figured out what has happened, you are trying to slow from 70 mph, but the bike is becoming increasingly unstable. The rear end does not want to cooperate.

If you have a passenger, that problem is tripled. If you are lucky/skilled, you may be able to maintain control and somehow get you and your passenger to the side of the road without catastrophe. In many cases, the motorcyclist loses control in the process of slowing the bike.

That control loss is occasioned by known and unknown gyroscopic forces that are forcing the bike into odd aerodynamic postures and increasing forces from wind resistance. When all of these forces, including gravity and friction, are competing for control of your bike, you lose.

The point of this story is that don’t even consider less than perfect tires and interstate speeds. While tires are more reliable today than ever, tire manufacturers demand air pressures be kept as specified and that the tire is not used beyond the wear specified for that tire. Do not be fooled by the wonderful tire experience you have on your automobile.

Those tires may very well last 60,000 miles. Because of the nature of the manufacturer’s compounds of the motorcycle tire, and because of the extraordinary demand of a motorcycle tire [namely that it be flexible in almost all axes, rear motorcycle tires routinely need replaced at 10,000 miles. Again, use the Lincoln head penny or the wear marks as your guide. If your motorcycle is a Garage Queen (has not been ridden 10,000 miles in a 4 to 5 year period,) I would replace the tire.

As a final answer to your question, relating to facts that you pose, I find it hard to imagine that any jury would find fault with the tire manufacturer if the motorcyclist did not comply with the manufacturer’s recommendations on inflation and wear. Clearly, they could conclude that you misused the product in question, despite your claim that there was excessive and sudden wear the last 500 miles of the tire.

I’ve heard about Saint Christopher. Is There a Saint Abate?

Q: I was reading a National Magazine and discovered that parts of Italy celebrate the Feast Day of St. ABATE. Is this true?

A: I was raised Catholic. I was an altar boy; and a dropout from the Seminary–and until now, I never knew there was a St. ABATE. There is! I now have parked my St. Christopher medal and have what I believe to be a St. ABATE medal for good luck when riding. Interestingly, (or maybe frighteningly) the image looks just like Michael Farabaugh. With Farabaugh having raised a couple million dollars for Riley Children’s Hospital, new meaning is given to the old saying “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

Ride Safe and Free,

Rod Taylor

A.B.A.T.E. 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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