August 19, 1996

Contact: Wayne T. Curtin 202-546-0983

MRF President, VP of Gov't Relations Resign from NCOM Over Product Liability Lawsuits

On July 27, 1996, MRF President Mark Buckner resigned as the MRF Liaison to the National Coalition of Motorcyclists (NCOM) Board of Advisors, and Vice President of Government Relations Wayne Curtin resigned from the NCOM Legislative Task Force. Buckner and Curtin resigned over issues regarding product liability lawsuits filed by Aid to Injured Motorcyclists (AIM) attorneys. AIM, a group of attorneys affiliated with the law offices of Richard M. Lester, provides funding for NCOM's activities.

Other resignations over the lawsuits include Ed Netterberg, Chairman of the NCOM Board of Advisors, board member Bob Letourneau, Industry Liaison to the board Bob Jackson, Legislative Task Force members Sherman Packard and Butch Olson, Executive Director Pepper Massey-Swan, NCOM National Council member Dave Dwyer, and Craig Clinch, European Coordinator of the International Coalition of Motorcyclists (ICOM). ICOM has since restructured its activities and is no longer affiliated with AIM or the law offices of Richard M. Lester.

The product liability lawsuits in question were filed by several AIM attorneys against Harley-Davidson Motor Company for among other things, not putting leg protection devices on their motorcycles. The litigation also claims that the motorcycles sold without leg protection were negligently designed, inherently dangerous, and not of merchantable quality when sold, which made them dangerous to the users and the general public. Also included were claims that Harley-Davidson, not the plaintiff(s), was responsible for the accidents in question and the resulting injury to the plaintiff. Buckner and Curtin felt that this approach ignored the rider's personal responsibility. According to Curtin, "I am especially concerned with product liability litigation that seeks to eliminate an individual's need to accept personal responsibility when they enter into the sport of motorcycling, as acknowledging and accepting risk and assuming personal responsibility is the base philosophy of the motorcyclists' rights movements' efforts to prevent safety advocates and the government from imposing "safety" mandates on motorcyclists."

The lawsuits in question were filed by AIM attorneys without the knowledge of the NCOM Board of Advisors or members of the Legislative Task Force. In a letter to the NCOM board members, Ed Netterberg stated, "I believe this type of information was withheld from us deliberately, knowing it would be unacceptable." Buckner and Curtin felt that the NCOM Board and Legislative Task Force should have been consulted on an issue of this magnitude.

An emergency meeting of the NCOM Board of Advisors was held in Las Vegas, Nevada on July 27, 1996 to discuss the litigation. While attending the meeting, Buckner pointed out that suing a motorcycle manufacturer for not providing leg protection is against the best interests of motorcycling and could have devastating effects legislatively or through regulatory agencies. Buckner also raised the issue that labeling motorcycles that do not come factory equipped with leg protection devices as inherently dangerous is wrong, and that personal responsibility, as one of the core values of the motorcyclists' rights movement, cannot be ignored. Both Buckner and Curtin feel the NCOM board has not taken sufficient action to adequately address these concerns. Following the meeting, Buckner stated, "These lawsuits are clearly against the interests of motorcycling. While I wish the NCOM board the best, I don't believe a satisfactory resolution will be reached until deliberate and specific changes occur in the AIM/NCOM funding and management relationships." The Board of Directors of the MRF will now decide how the organization will address any future relationship with NCOM.

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