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Ask Our Lawyer - April 2004


On Friday, Abate Legal Services obtained a Court Order, authorizing Methodist Hospital to terminate life support for Michael Shuler. A painful job we lawyers sometimes have to do – even more painful when it’s for a friend. Michael died Saturday evening, March 13, 2004.
Michael was critically injured in a motorcycle accident earlier in the week. We all loved his ornery ways, big smile, kindly spirit, and enthusiasm. I knew him at the Boogie as the man who couldn’t have too much fun. He was a bear of a man with a heart bigger than that. He was also a momma’s boy. No mother ever had a better son, or a friend a better friend. One of the true measures of a man is how many friends he leaves behind. By that score, Michael Shuler is off the chart. I estimate that at least 50 friends had a key to his house or code to his garage door. Where I come from, a truly honest man is a trusting man.
Family and friends gathered around Michael’s hospital bed on Friday to determine whether or not life support should be continued. After the family made the decision, and on my way to the hospital elevator, a nurse asked why do “people” like him ride motorcycles? Here is what I said, “probably for the same reasons that folks settled Virginia, traveled through the Cumberland Gap, settled Kentucky, crossed the Ohio and settled Indiana, Illinois, and on to Texas and California. Those are the same type of people that helped the English and the French during the World Wars and now help the people of Iraq.” That same spirit flowed through the veins of Michael Shuler.
Sadly, life is not without risks; not then and not now. It is those “people” who take risks, do things, go places, and settle new lands. I think they are called Americans. And as long as those “people” are around – the World will be just fine.
When I finished my response to the nurse, she looked at me and said, “never thought of it that way before.” Somehow, I don’t think she will ever ask again “why do people like him ride motorcycles”. Hopefully, she knows now.
Michael leaves behind his Aunts, Sherry Whitaker, Linda Mobley, cousin, Angie Cazee, his uncle Larry [after you meet Larry Thrasher, you will know Michael got his orneriness naturally], and his friend Sandy Whitlock. All of them were there for Michael at the end. Now it is our turn.

Q: My local chapter is going to have an event, and one of the members has suggested that we use a release form and have the participants sign it. Another member said that they had heard that releases weren’t worth the paper they’re written on. What’s the real story?

A: That’s a good question, and it deserves a good answer. Fortunately, our ABATE Legal Services team member George W. Tinkham has done a good deal of work in this area. Here’s what George has to say:

Motorcycling events are more than just fun; they are an opportunity for club and A.B.A.T.E. members to know each other better, to exchange ideas, and to get fired up about A.B.A.T.E. and the protection of our freedoms. Sometimes, however, an event can lead to personal injury or property damage of a participant.

One of the most inexpensive liability-limiting measures is to require each participant to sign a release form before participating in the event. These agreements must be signed by each adult (eighteen or older) participant or the legal guardian of a minor participant in an event. Ideally, such a release should contain the following items:
1. Assumption of Risk. The participant specifically acknowledges the dangers inherent in the event and clearly states that he will assume all responsibility for his own welfare. This provision indicates that the participant is aware of the potential risks he faces and is making a knowing release of all future claims.
2. Release and waiver of all future claims. This is a contractual commitment whereby the participant promises not to make a claim for damages or injuries resulting from the event.
3. Consideration. Because the release is a contract, it must be supported by "consideration." This is something given by the sponsor in exchange for the release of future claims.
4. Age. All contracts must be signed by an adult. In most states, this is eighteen years old. If the participant is a minor, his legal guardian (usually a parent) must sign for him.
5. Indemnification. A participant's promise not to sue may not prevent his wife and children from filing claims against the sponsor. Therefore, it is important that the participant or his estate promise to reimburse the sponsor if anyone else files a claim based on the participant's involvement in the event. The participant's promise to defend and reimburse if such a claim is filed also protects the sponsor from the inconvenience of a claim. This provision is not meant to disadvantage the participant, but is designed to close what otherwise would be a "loophole" in this agreement.

A written release is virtually useless unless it is properly executed and the signing party knows what he is signing. The people at the registration table at an event, then, have the tremendously important duty of making sure that every participant has looked at, and has the opportunity to read, the terms of the release. Every participant must sign the release himself and may not let a buddy do it for him. The volunteers may have to get tough at times, especially with minors; however, a release contract works only if it is handled properly. Vigilance and effort are necessary to protect a chapter from liability.

Again, nothing can keep someone from suing a sponsor, but careful attention to details (including a release and indemnification agreement) can increase the chances of not being sued and of winning if a suit is filed.

As always, wise words from our brother George. Contact your state office to see if they have a release form that you can use and to review your event.


Ah, spring - the birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, and I just lost my RoadKing in a monster chuckhole. While we can’t prevent chuckholes, we can help get them fixed. How? By using the RoadHazard.org web site, Papaw, our good buddy in Indiana, reported a chuckhole on an local highway, and we received a rather nice letter in response. Let me quote some of the letter:

I sincerely appreciate your notifications and in both cases instructed our maintenance workforces to give those areas immediate attention....With so many miles of roadway,... we appreciate concerned citizens...reporting problems to us. I look forward to working with your wonderful organization in the future.
Mr. Robert Kimmerling, Acting Subdirector, Manager, IDOT

It’s always nice to have feedback from the people who are responsible for fixing the streets, especially this time of year. My experience has been that they are always happy to hear from us about Road Hazards and are glad we can help them out. Keep those reports coming!


We’ve recently received some emails from riders in other states who want to report their own road hazards. One of our goals for this project is to expand the coverage nationwide, but we will need your help to do so. If you are reading this and are from a state other than Ohio, Indiana or Illinois, and want to help, call or email us. We would like to have “RoadHazard reps” in every state that can help us get the reports out to the local officials responsible for road safety. If you can help, give us a holler.

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.