Ask Our Lawyer – August 2019

Ask Our Lawyer

by Rod Taylor – ABATE Legal Services


Fourth of July is a “best day” of the year to ride to Attica, Indiana. After all this is Jay Jackson country and he picked to live in a good riding spot. And so thought Christopher.  He and his buddy John Montgomery chose U.S. 41 to ride north. Being from Rockville they know good riding country.  U.S.41 was a two lane lane road allowing great riding in the Wabash Valley, and riding a V Star Yamaha 1100 must be joy on that road.

U.S. 41 was designed in a day when traffic was intense, but no longer.

Christopher was point man and John was his wingman -perfectly staggered. All was good until it wasn’t. As they say, speed doesn’t kill, it is the sudden stop, so we watch out for the sudden stops.

Per the crash report, the adverse driver “advised she seen the motorcycle driving northbound and did not know why she turned into it.” AFTER YOU HAVE SWALLOWED THAT- here is more of what happened. Adverse driver drove into Christopher as she was making a left turn.  The speed limit is 55mph. At that speed Christopher was traveling almost 81 feet per second (80.667 to be exact).

Let’s talk about the sound of a V Star Yamaha 1100 coming apart at 55 mph.  And what about Christopher – just suspended in the air after being ejected from his bike and traveling around 55 mph?  The engine case had disintegrated from the g-forces – oil everywhere. Loose fenders and other parts are traveling with Christopher and Christopher is alongside John – but John is riding a motorcycle. Christopher is not. Must have been a curious feeling for Christopher watching John slowly pass him by as he was suspended in air but still going riding speed.

At some point Isaac Newton takes over and Christopher slows for the landing.  He recalls doing a complete flip in the air, but now is following John.  The landing is soon to follow – on his rear. Burning skin off the old fashion way by fire hurts enough, but rubbing skin off by road maybe worse.  After the road rashing is complete, Christopher lies there testing what works, what moves, any vehicles coming, and looking at the debris of the V Star scattered like granulated seed. Never was a thought that the bike was not totaled – or him for that matter.

The emergency folks did their thing. The trip to the hospital seemed long. Wondering what would become of him? Could he work?  What was busted? Legs? Hips? Rehab? How long? Would work still be there? Bills – how to pay?

Quick work with the diagnostic process at the hospital in Williamsport. Result- nothing broken. What the hell? How is that possible.

From here on out his patron saint should be St. Christopher or Evel Knievel. And I have on order a St. Christopher medal for him to wear for the rest of his days.


ROADS SCHOLAR Lesson No. 1 – It was bikers that returned glory to the Old National Road that cuts across the country, also known as U.S. 40.  Its heyday was 1840, but by the middle of that century, the railroads had put it out of business. The traffic/business was so bad that the Feds turned the highway back to the counties to maintain their portion. That is until some unknown designed and built a new form of transportation – the safety bicycle.  And it was Harley Davidson that made a myriad of those, before they figured out how to put a motor on that cycle and become part of transportation history and lore.

ROADS SCHOLAR Lesson No. 2 –   The outcry of cyclists (without motors) in 1891 gave rise to better roads.  Cycling clubs sprang up all over the U.S. resulting in the creation of state highway departments in the 1890’s.

ROADS SCHOLAR Lesson No. 3 – Roads started simply – with ditches on the side and with varying sizes of gravel laid down with a “high” portion in the middle.  The new style road was called a “high-way.” When concrete and asphalt came along, there also came a new road name, “the hard road.”

ROADS SCHOLAR Lesson No. 4 – Farmers joined “cyclists” with a get the farmer out of the mud mantra.” Organizations such as the “Good Roads” movement joined with the legislators responsible for the U.S. Post Office.  Post Roads were created, and so on it goes, but let’s never forget that it was us “two wheel” riders that started it all. So if you are ever asked “if you motorcyclists think you own the roads,” you might think to yourself, “yeah, as a matter of fact.”



When I lived in Wayne county Illinois about a thousand years ago I thought of riding the Pyrenees Mountains. That is generally where Hannibal traveled to fight the Romans – with elephants no less. No more thinking about it because I did it, and I would never ever think of doing it again.  And knowing what I know now I would have paid criminal amounts of money not to do it. And I would tell every friend of mine to never even think about especially with a passenger.

I went with two friends and Ann.  The bonds that formed as a result of surviving the ride can almost be described as like that of combatants having survived a battle. Here is why.  I am a motorcycle cruiser, not A MotoGP kind of rider. Ann and I have ridden nearly every major mountain range in the U.S. and we love it, especially the safety attention usually afforded roads in our country. But that experience did not come close to preparing us for the Pyrenees mountain pass from hell – Col de Au bisque – roads that only elephants feel good about. The motorcycle rental place only rented BMW’s – great motorcycle, but I had never ridden one. Am a Harley guy and that is the bike that I know well. It was a big mistake to take an unfamiliar bike to that pass, and with a passenger no less. I am a farm boy with a “how hard can it be attitude”.  I found out.

Here is what happened. In taking the roads up to the pass from hell, we encountered narrow roads – no big deal. That is until you take away guard rails, quit leveling them at about a 13 percent grade and throw in a menagerie of farm animals, all lose roaming around looking for handouts like a panhandler. Then there were the French tourists driving mini campers coming down the mountain seemingly always looking the wrong way and driving on your FIVE FEET of road.  Not sure if the middle finger was a universal sign before I rode there, but I am pretty sure it is now.

Cows with bells, sheep with bells, goats with bells and did I mention bulls with horns? And course throw in a horse with a cowbell – seen an embarrassed horse before.  In this open barnyard, I learned all about the coefficient of friction of manure, which is everywhere. Crudely put, cow shit is slicker than goat shit, which is slicker than sheep shit and horse shit is slicker than all of them. Am not sure about the bull shit. This is very important information to know with a two wheeler on steep roads.  We had just gone through Col de Portlet – get that portlet. Call me crazy, but I think the sheep, cow, goat and horse stuff on that mountain pass gave us a modern term, but I could not find anyone around there to own up to it.

A smarter man would have turned around at Col du Tourmalet – the famous point of the Tour de France- and gone back home to Indiana.  Forrest was right, stupid is as stupid does. While there among the animals, I looked over towards the pass from hell. I said to my companions that surely that was not the road. It was chiseled into the side of the mountain which was maybe 16 feet wide in some places, and it was at least 2000 feet straight down – a sheer cliff – remember no guardrails. When I had passed the point of no return, I was thinking that my riding gear with state of the art body armor was not going to be much help with a slip and a wrong move . And what a horrible time to discover that you are a closet –  height fearer. Nothing scared me more than when Ann leaned over and whispered, ” whatever you do, don’t look down.” I and my stomach knew she meant it and I didn’t, even when we got to a safe point. Going up a steep grade in first gear wishing you had and even lower one and facing a 180 switch back on a blind turn was more than I could stomach (remember the French tourists in the mini campers looking in all the wrong directions and usually driving on my part of the road). The view of just sky ahead and not knowing if the road continued straight or hung a left out of sight was paralyzing, or was it a 13 percent grade, or a 180 degree switchback on a blind curve?  And by the way when does a BMW 1200 stall out ? I had never ridden so much in first or second gear in my life.

Here is how I put this ride up the pass from hell into perspective – hind sight of course.  Most large cities have a building that is 600 feet high. Pretend some idiot builds a ramp at a conservative 6-7 percent grade, three times higher than that; next he builds a wall on one side and makes the ramp 16 feet wide; then he leaves the other side wide open- not even a dandelion on the edge; then puts a herd of sheep, cattle, horses and goats spread along the way.  And don’t forget the French guys in the minivan he has invited to start down from the opposite direction, driving a lot on the not-their-side. Then he invites you to ride your Harley up the ramp so you can enjoy yourself and the view.  What do you say?

If someone ever tries to talk you into riding up through the pass from hell, call me and I will give you some of the best advice you will ever get.  As for me and Ann, we are left with the best feeling ever – the one of being shot at and missed.



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:  Probably not.  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 divorced 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.

Ride Safe & Free,


Rod Taylor

ABATE Legal Services

All questions from ABATE members are answered confidentially unless otherwise authorized and only after the matter is concluded, except when authorization for publication anonymously or otherwise is given for pending matters. Remember, injured ABATE members pay only 28 ½% of total recovery motorcycle crash cases, and expenses as approved by client. Elsewhere, you may pay 33 ⅓%, 40% or even 50% of your recovery.  In those cases, ABATE members are not charged for recovery of damage to their motorcycle, and have access to a 24-hour toll-free telephone number. Call us at 1-(800)-25-RIDER. Questions? Submit them to: © 2019.

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