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Ask Our Lawyer - October 2011

All Quiet On The Western Front (Or Eastern Front)?

Recently I had the pleasure of visiting in Sturgis with our gallant leader of the MRF. No one works harder, or smarter, or travels farther for the MRF than Kirk “Hardtail” Willard. He is truly the unsung hero of motorcyclists in this country, and probably worldwide. (And no one gets more miles out of a Harley engine either. He delights in daring his trusty iron steed to crap out on him in the middle of nowhere, and it seems to work. And I only thought Kentuckians could do that.)

In our conversation, I brought up the subject of the State of the Union as far as we bikers are concerned. I suggested that I had not heard about pressing issues in Congress or of scary legislation being rolled about on Capitol Hill. I continued to probe “Hardtail” as to the hue and cry from those that want to “take care of us”. With his intense focus, he cut me to the quick and posed the following, “do you have any idea as to how much work it takes to keep Washington D.C. and its collection of do-gooders quiet concerning proposed bills regarding motorcycle rights?” With that quick elegant question he had made his point. I had become so hardened to expect one adverse motorcycle piece of legislation after another being proposed that I had lost track of the point. That we did not want any bills out there being kicked around that impact us adversely - period. The moral of the story is, that because it is “Quiet on the Western Front”, it is also no time to relax. “Quiet” is hard work. Thank you Hardtail and all of the folks at the MRF for what you do.

In my many years on this earth, I have noticed that talented people get surrounded by talented people. And that does not happen by accident. Take Hardtail for example. One of his jobs for us at the MRF is to hire good people to do our bidding in DC. And that he does. Through a brilliant stroke of genius he managed to hire one of our best ever - Jeff Hennie. Jeff is like a beagle in a forty acre field when it comes to Capitol Hill. There is no bush in that part of the country that he has not sniffed or pissed on. Our rights would not be the same with out them. As their and Paladin’s card said, “Have gun will travel”. And we need to wire them $$$$, lots and lots of money. Before I met those guys I thought I worked hard for motorcycle rights, but I feel lazy by comparison.

Dead man talking?

Q: My father just died, and as personal representative, I have been working on collecting all of the estate assets - death benefits, retirement accounts and the like. It turns out that my dad, who was divorced 10 years ago, had never changed the beneficiary of his retirement plan at work. Now, his ex-wife is going to get all of his retirement benefits. Is there anything I can do?

A: Unfortunately, no. Only the employee can make changes to the retirement plan (including death benefits, investment accounts and pensions), so once the employee passes away, there is no way to make changes to those designations. Further, if your father was covered under a type of plan called an ERISA plan (named after the federal law that regulates those plans) only a specific type of order (called a QDRO) can automatically change the beneficiary upon entry of the divorce order. If such an order was not entered and he took no steps to change the beneficiary, the retirement plan will pay the named beneficiary, even if it was obvious that your father did not want that to happen. Some states, including Indiana, have statutes which will by operation of law revoke all provisions in the will in favor of the spouse, but you should consult with a lawyer to see what the law provides in your jurisdiction or whether the divorce order was sufficient to change the beneficiary. Also, remember that other assets like life insurance, motor vehicle titles and bank accounts can have survivor rights attached to them, and they will also need to be reviewed to make sure that proper steps have been taken to change the beneficiaries.

Escorting unescorted rides

This question and answer comes to us from Jay Jackson, Executive Director of ABATE of Indiana. We thought it was some good information we need to pass along.

Q: We have tried to get our police department to help us as escorts for our bike runs and as road guards, but they claim they are to busy and that we need to find off-duty officers who will volunteer. We haven’t had any luck.

We inquired about us being able to take a course to train us to be certified road guards to take pressure off cops and free them for more important things. There is no class in New Mexico but we were told if we establish a curriculum the state will help us establish a class.

My question is there any other states that have such and class and if so, could you share information about your class with me?

Annette, NM

A: I am not aware of any state that allows for anyone other than law enforcement to escort a procession that can disregard traffic control. Even parades can get a little weird. Some states have a provision in their code that allows for funerals, but are usually pretty specific with regard to who can conduct the escort. In addition, in some states, it is a felony to block traffic at an intersection to allow the ride to pass through.

What you have been told is pretty common across the country, especially in larger cities. Police departments used to conduct funeral escorts and they also used to help people that locked their keys in their car. Hardly any departments (maybe a few small towns) do either of these any more. Most of the larger rides are forced to "hire" off-duty law enforcement to organize escorts. The going rate is about $100 per officer (that's per intersection if they are blocked for any real length of time) and generally about $500 for someone to perform administration (apply for permits and schedule the individual cops).

I hate to be saying this, but I would suggest seeking legal counsel before having your members "play cop" either with, or without, any sort of training. If there is an "incident" and anyone other than recognized law enforcement is "in charge" the whole event or organization could be liable. I was part of an event that had an off-duty cop, out of his jurisdiction, on his own bike that was helping us out. After about 10 minutes at this particular intersection a car got tired of waiting, pulled around two other cars and drove into the intersection collecting three bikes in the process resulting in serious injury to several riders. All kinds of people got named in that law suit and it was indeed a learning experience.

Except for the biggest rides where we bite the bullet and pay as much as $5000 - $10000 for off-duty cops, we've taken to having destination rides where people travel in small groups (3-8) obeying traffic laws and just meet at the end rather than have one massive group.

Life sure was a lot easier in the old days. Good Luck.

Ride Safe, Ride Free

Jay Jackson

2011 Freedom Fighters Hall of Fame

Rod is not one to blow his own horn, so it’s up to us to do it for him - Editor.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame is proud to announce the 2011 Freedom Fighters Hall of Fame Inductee, Rodney Taylor of Indiana.

The Freedom Fighters Hall of Fame recognizes the commitment and sacrifices individuals across the nation, and world, have made to protect the rights of motorcyclists. In their honor the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame established the nation’s first and only Freedom Fighters Hall of Fame.

Rodney Taylor has been actively involved in the motorcyclists rights movement since the early 1980s. His interest was first piqued by rider education and he has worked endless hours on this community service. He’s donated time and money to help develop motorcycle safety programs and to purchase equipment. He paid for all of the costs of establishing the first Mobile Training Unit (MTU) for ABATE of Indiana’s Motorcycle Safety Division in 1985. This first MTU laid the groundwork for a training program in Indiana that has trained almost 100,000 riders. As an attorney, Taylor has offered endless advice and services to motorcycling organizations around the world, all at no cost. He’s assisted numerous state Motorcycle Rights Organizations in the proper structuring of their organizations.

People who know Taylor will tell you that his work in motorcyclists rights has been tireless and that he does the work because he believes in it so strongly. Several supporters have indicated that Taylor is always focusing the spotlight away from himself and on to others when it comes to the accomplishments of Indiana Motorcycle Rights. He continues to work with others in Indiana to lobby on behalf of motorcycle rights.

Rod heads up ABATE Legal Services and has helped to create www . roadhazard . org – a website designed to allow motorcyclists an easy way to report road hazards to the appropriate agencies in various states.

Congrats, Rod! A well-earned honor.

Remember, injured ABATE members pay only 28 ½% of total recovery and expenses as approved by client, consistent with and conforming to applicable state law. Elsewhere, you may pay 33 ⅓%, 40% or even 50% of your recovery. And, ABATE members are not charged for recovery of damage to your motorcycle, and have access to a 24-hour toll-free telephone number.

Call us at (800) 25-RIDER

If you have any questions you would like to ask the lawyer, please submit them to ASK OUR LAWYER, at rodtaylor@abatelegal.com. © 2011, A.B.A.T.E. Legal Services