Pennsylvania may have no-fault ranges

At this point we turn to pending legislation in the state of Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth  safety program  has had more known severe injuries and deaths than any other state program. According to the state program manager Dave Surgenor, bystanders, cars, motorcycles and sheds have been hit by students. Two of the known deaths have occurred in the state program, at least one case of complete paraplegia and at least one other lawsuit has been filed against MSF—though what injuries were involved are not (yet) known.

When lawsuits are filed, the property owner is often named—particularly if an obstacle or dangerous condition is seen as relevant to the crash. For that reason site owners have good reason to be very leery of allowing the PAMSP anywhere near their pavement.

It is with great interest, then, that PA HB1189 would amend legislation the state motorcycle program and indemnify the owner(s) of land used for ranges from civil lawsuits. Currently there are 78 sites listed on the 2009 RERP Site List for the PAMSP.

According to one of the sources who sent one of the copies of the bill to me, PA’s ABATE is in full support of the bill. Richard A. Geist (R) is the sponsor of the bill.

The text of the bill is not available on the PA legislative site. I, however, was sent two copies of the same .pdf file of the bill text as it was on March 2, 2009.

The first part of Title 75 (Vehicles), Section 7911 that established the state motorcycle safety program and lists its duties remains unchanged except to add the words “General Rule” at the beginning.

Here’s the new wording, “(b) Exemption from liability. –The owner of land who authorizes the owner’s property to be used for the purposes of an approved motorcycle safety education program as provided in subsection (a) shall not be held civilly liable for any injury or death to persons or damage to property that may occur during the course of instruction or training, except for willful or malicious failure to warn against a dangerous condition, use, structure or activity.”

The language gives the “owner of the land” a blanket liability waiver except in very extreme—and extremely difficult to prove—circumstances. However, since the PAMSP trains and certifies the instructors, certifies the range, conducts the classes, it’s only fair that the owner—who may have no familiarity with motorcycling and certainly no responsibility for the actual class—is excluded from these kind of suits.

Particularly because so many of Pennsylvania’s ranges are on the parking lots of state-owned or state-related universities, colleges or community colleges, other schools, state agencies and even three are on property owned or operated by the military. Indemnification, then, would protect the Commonwealth–and thus the riders as well as non-riders.

This bill, once signed into law, would take effect in 60 days.

It appears that this law could convince more parking lot owners to allow the state program to conduct training on their pavement. The bill, then, could be a blessing for state programs in their desperate hunt for good pavement. Because of this, other states or regional programs may scramble to get this bill before their state legislatures as well.

Except…well, there’s a few issues in the text that perhaps PA’s ABATE didn’t think through—and there’s another bill before the Senate that would change the meaning of HB1189 significantly. That’s the next entry.

Wording opens up, perhaps, unintended consequences

While the law appears beneficial to the state motorcycle program, it is vague. For example, it doesn’t specify who should be warned nor any limits on when such a warning—or how clear the warning should be. Does the warning need to be given just once? Could it be given just once at some point in the past? According to the language in the bill, that could indemnify the property owner.

And how would the property owner know what constitutes a danger—according to MSF’s range approval form, that’s the responsibility of the “Training Provider in consultation with RiderCoach” to determine and the signatory to the RERP agreement must sign that he or she accepts all responsibility for the range. Otoh, because, as the program is now run, why should the property owner because of PAMSP’s and the instructor’s failure of judgment?

Additionally, the nature of a warning means that the condition can still exist and does not have to be rectified. For example, there could be edge traps and potholes and, as long as someone at some point in time was warned dangerous conditions could still exist but the owner would still have a blanket indemnity.

It doesn’t say who is to be warned—the student? PennDOT? The motorcycle safety program? As written, as long as someone anywhere was warned at any time, it would be sufficient to indemnify the owner of the land. However, if the intent is that the student be warned, technically the student liability waiver would be sufficient to warn the student that dangers exist.

Another issue that PA’s ABATE may not have considered is this would allow training to occur on dangerous terrain—such as a hilltop range with a long slope 20’ or high curbs/berms and large rocks or poorly constructed Armco barriers or buildings or concrete/brick walls or fences just beyond 20’ from the perimeter. All of which have been involved in one or more of the deadly or near-fatal crashes in rider training. Will such a law mean, “If you indemnify it, they will paint it”?

However, under MSF’s administration—and with MSF employees choosing, laying out and certifying those ranges—more severe injuries and deaths have occurred on Pennsylvania ranges than in any state in the nation—in fact, more than any in the world.

Nor does the bill specify if it would only cover current and future owners or if this indemnity would reach back into the past and cover the site owners who have had those deadly severe crashes.

The bill, in my opinion, is too vague and offers a blanket liability that could have the unintended consequences of creating even more dangerous ranges. If the state program—and MSF—is doing an adequate job, however, those ranges would not be approved. However, all the ranges where students and the one instructor have been killed or critically injured in rider training have been approved by the state and by MSF.

The text of the bill, as written, then indemnifies the owner of the land against anything whatsoever in any way happens during the course of training as long as some sort of vague warning was given at some point to someone. Such problems could be corrected before the bill is passed—but will the PA ABATE see the need?

After all, why should the owner of the land be liable? It’s not like the property owner chose the range and laid it out and conducts the training on the site. No, that’s the Pennsylvania state motorcycle safety program.

Wait a minute—that may not be true if another bill passes the General Assembly and is signed into law. That’s the next entry. And if that bill passes, it will not only change the meaning of this bill, HB1189 but could completely transform rider training in Pennsylvania.

Explore posts in the same categories: Motorcycle Rights, Motorcycle Safety Foundation, Motorcycle Training, Motorcycle training lawsuits, State Motorcycle Safety Programs

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