MSF Insurer pays out almost a $1 Million for broken hip training crash

The following is based on an article was printed in Missouri Lawyers Weekly on February 16, 2009. I stumbled across the article while researching something else—and had I not, it’s likely that very few people would ever know about it. Which is just like the deaths, near-fatalities and other training crashes we do know about—most have not been reported in a forum that can be easily accessed by the public. While this one is neither death nor near-fatality, it’s just as serious in other ways:

According to the article in the Verdicts & Settlements section of Missouri Lawyer’s Weekly, “Elderly woman settles with motorcycle school”, an 82-year old woman, Doris Friend, suffered a broken hip after a motorcycle training student crashed into her during a range session back in 2006. She and her husband, Carrol, sued “the student, the motorcycle school, the dealership that provided the training vehicles and the owner and manager of the parking lot.” It does not mention that the instructor/s were sued. An Internet search reveals a Carrol and Doris Friend in Independence, Missouri—a suburb of Kansas City.

The settlement was for $975,000 and the article reports “A national licensing authority for the motorcycle school paid the entire settlement amount, thanks to an insurance policy that covered every defendant.”

Rider instructors and administrators place a great deal of faith in the liability waiver students sign at the beginning of the course. This lawsuit proves that once again it did not hold up in court and in yet another state.

Nowhere in the article does it mention who that national licensing authority was and that’s because, “The identities of all defendants are subject to a confidentiality agreement.” However the article also goes on to say, “The national licensing authority provides the curriculum for 29 training schools in Missouri.” The so-called “national licensing authority”, then, would be the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, and the insurance would be MSF RiderCourse Insurance.

The elderly woman, Doris Friend, wasn’t participating in the course. Instead, she was “loading items into her parked car when a student at the motorcycle school veered off the training course and hit Friend’s car.” Friend was knocked over and broke her hip as the student hit the car.

According to the plaintiff’s attorney Danny Thomas of the Independence, MO lawfirm, Humphrey, Farrington & McClain, the student had never ridden a motorcycle before the course and “had already wrecked her motorcycle in an earlier exercise.”

As noted, the confidentiality agreement does not allow the name of the school to be revealed but the article mentions it was in Jackson County and a Google map search reveals several training programs in the area. The lawsuit “argued that there were no barriers or roadblocks separating the motorcycle school from the other businesses in the strip mall.” That it was in a strip mall limits which school it can be.

The precipitating incident appears to be a run-off—the hallmark of MSF’s Basic RiderCourse and the kind of incident behind the 7 fatalities and 3 near-fatal crashes we know of in rider training since 2002. The article does not mention if the student rider was injured.

The article stated that MSF’s attorney, David Buchanan, the company’s Kansas City defense attorney with Brown & James, “keeps detailed records of all injuries large and small incurred at the training centers” and “[n]one of those incidents resembled the situation detailed in Friend’s lawsuit.”

However, a student hitting a non-participant or object near the range is not unknown. Bystanders have been hit in MSF’s 2007 state program award winner, the Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Program. That program is administrated by MSF and according to e-mail and documents from Dave Surgenor to PMSP instructors the program has had several critical crashes involving students, vehicles and by-standers and that there are lawsuits filed regarding those crashes.

Like MSF’s lawsuit against TEAM Oregon, MSF sought a settlement just before it went to trial—in this case it would’ve been a jury trial. The case was subsequently settled by a mediator and the almost one million dollar settlement included the $75,000 Friend had already paid out in medical costs and between $166,000 and $934,342 for future costs as well as $13,000 for mediator fees and plaintiff copying costs and an additional $8,700 in court costs. Normally, each side pays for half of the mediator costs and so forth. But, in this case, all these expenses were paid for by MSF RiderCourse Insurance.

MSF RiderCourse Insurance is a master policy that names the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Every other entity is listed as an “additional named” and shares MSF’s one policy. Those include states–including all the states MSF administrates–state programs, independent contractors, dealerships, etc. In addition, training providers often have to include the parking lot owners as additional named under their shared policy.

As of last year, the RiderCourse certificate of insurance, the policy limits for the medical insurance is $10,000 per incidence with a limit of $2 million personal injury, $2 million general liability per occurrence and a $20 million aggregate cap. All who are covered by the policy—MSF and the additional named—share those limits.

This one incident was settled for almost one million dollars and represents almost 1/20th of the aggregate cap for all those who are named under MSF’s policy.

And it was for “only” a broken hip for someone who was by anyone’s measure, elderly and that would impact how long the lifelong medical care would be. It also didn’t involve lifelong lost earnings or loss of care for family and so forth which could be issues for a younger plaintiff. Almost a million dollars is also what the parties agreed to with the help of a mediator—who knows what a jury would’ve decided?

Just one of the ramifications of the confidentiality clause in the settlement is that this case would’ve been unknown to the rider ed community—as well as to the motorcycling community. MSF is under no obligation to let those who have purchased insurance through MSF’s policy how close the aggregate is to being exhausted. It is also not clear what would happen to suits in progress once that aggregate limit is reached.

It’s also unknown how many lawsuits involving rider training are in progress across the nation and how many of those involve MSF RiderCourse Insurance. It’s unknown how many have been settled before now and how close that aggregate limit is already.

The number of lawsuits could be considerably higher than rider educators suspect: “Thomas and co-counsel Ken McClain dug up thousands of accident reports from other training schools associated with the national instruction organization, proof that other students had been injured during the courses.”

The article did not mention the fatalities from training—and at least the Mother’s Day fatality in Colorado Springs and the sliced open aorta at the Valley Forge, PA site in 1998 had lawsuits filed but unsettled the last time I checked.

An elderly woman’s broken hip was worth almost a million dollars It would only take, then, just over 10 other cases settled for similar amounts to exhaust the lifetime aggregate cap for every single one of those additional named who share MSF’s RiderCourse Insurance policy. If an elderly woman’s hip is worth almost a million dollars, how much is a much younger woman’s almost total paralysis?

The economic costs of just one suit that never came before a jury might make the genuine risks of training become a little more real to rider educators who have ignored the rising crash rates and resultant injuries and deaths associated with MSF’s basic training.The question is: how long can you–literally–afford to ingnore the increasing number of crashes, injuries and deaths associated with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation?

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One Comment on “MSF Insurer pays out almost a $1 Million for broken hip training crash”

  1. Diogenes Says:

    With the help of MSF’s insurance Dr. Ochs, like many other bad doctors, gets to bury his mistakes. I think it’s pathetic that the rider ed community is continuing to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the carnage they’re perpetrating. The manufacturers who own MSF are too focused on profits to acknowlege the disaster they’ve created. It looks like the only hope is for the Federal Government to step in…and who knows what kind of onerous legislation and rulemaking will follow. Meanwhile MRF and the ABATE folks have their heads stuck firmly up their anti-helmet-pro-obnoxious-pipes issues. Maybe motorcycles and their riders deserve to go roost with the dodos…there doesn’t seem to be any intelligent life here!


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