LAS VEGAS, July 27, 1996 -- The National Coalition of Motorcyclists (NCOM) has begun a reorganization process designed to "re-invent" itself to become more autonomous and independent of the legal services program that finances it, Aid to Injured Motorcyclists (AIM).

Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, on July 27, the NCOM Board also expressed regret and disapproval of product liability lawsuits filed by AIM lawyers charging that certain Harley-Davidson motorcycles contain design flaws that can lead to leg amputations in case of accident. Those suits triggered concern among motorcycle activists in Europe who are fighting proposals to mandate leg protectors on motorcycles.

"Our intent on filing those suits was solely to protect the rights of injured motorcyclists, not to promote mandatory leg protectors," NCOM and AIM founder Richard Lester told the Board. "In retrospect, however, I can see how they could be misinterpreted that way. Neither I nor any AIM attorney would ever do anything to jeopardize the motorcycle rights movement and will no longer take any future cases that even have the perception of conflict."

However, rules governing the legal profession indicate that for those existing cases, the attorneys may not be substituted without proper legal cause. The issue was expected to be included in a column in an upcoming issue of the "American Motorcyclist," the monthly magazine published by the American Motorcyclist Association.

"We do not approve of this type of lawsuit and we wish they had never been filed," the NCOM Board said in a statement. "But we cannot and will not allow this incident to detract from or destroy the very real progress we have made in fighting for bikers rights. We must move ahead positively and aggressively."

And while taking issue with the lawsuits, the NCOM Board gave Lester and AIM a vote of confidence and expressed gratitude for providing the motorcycle rights movement with well over $3 million in funding over the past decade.

Sixteen regional NCOM advisors agreed to continue serving on the Board; two resigned, citing their personal disagreement with the AIM lawsuits.

The Board reaffirmed its commitment to keep fighting for motorcycle rights; at the same time, it took steps to address concerns about the potential for conflicts of interest in a relationship between a non-profit rights organization and a for-profit legal services program.

Acting Board Chairman Rod Clarke of Vermont said NCOM has experienced such rapid growth in the 10 years since it was created that some "growing pains" were inevitable.

"We felt it was crucial that we turn this challenge into an opportunity to review of operation, redefine our relationship with AIM and develop a plan that will help us lead the motorcycle rights movement into the 21st century," he said.

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