It was a beautiful March morning in Southwest Louisiana. The temperature rested in the mid-seventies and only a few clouds drifted in an otherwise clear sky. An optimal time to be outside, but the tragic event that was soon to unfold could darken even the nicest of days.
The Harley Davidson Company had recently partnered with Cajun Harley-Davidson, a local Louisiana motorcycle dealership, to host a promotional event where riders could test-drive bikes on a pre-planned, eleven mile route. Around 12 motorcyclists participated, including avid Harley enthusiast Ralph John “RJ” Doucet.
The ride started around 10 o’clock and went through Scott, Louisiana, a decent sized Cajun town west of Lafayette and only slightly north of Mr. Doucet’s hometown of Maurice.
As the riders meandered north on Highway 93, an oncoming driver, distracted by the spectacle of a dozen brand new Harleys, found his car veering off the road. Tragically, while trying to regain control, the driver overcorrected his vehicle and crashed into Mr. Doucet, causing injuries that would ultimately claim RJ’s life.
In an instant, everyone lost something – Harley, the dealership, participants, friends and family. But the events that ensued from that horrible incident serve as a reminder for organizations that host riding events: the safety of your participants must always be the key concern.
In the litigation that followed, arguments were made that trained personnel should have planned the route, as the ride was unreasonably dangerous. To support this argument, the plaintiffs showed that Highway 93 had multiple tight curves and was surrounded by steep slopes and derelict shoulders. It was also argued that the use of headlight modulators, safety vests and trained escorts could have prevented Mr. Doucet’s death.
The defendants countered that every reasonable measure to ensure the safety of its riders was taken. For example, the route was tested and inspected for hazards six or seven times, participants were required to attend an orientation that included route descriptions and safety procedures, and the riders expressly indicated they had the skill to safely operate a motorcycle. Participants were also required to wear helmets and were even provided with one if they didn’t have their own.
While the court agreed that Cajun Harley had a duty to be proactive in the safety and protection of participants, it found that duty was met. In its opinion, the court stated that “short of a complete ban on promotional motorcycle rides, a social policy that would certainly be detested by the riders themselves, Cajun Harley took every reasonable precautionary measure to ensure the safety of its drivers.”
The court also noted that “increased conspicuousness would not have deterred [the driver’s] distraction. Neither police patrols nor permits would have prevented [the driver] from being distracted by the motorcycles.” Essentially, the cause of the accident was a distracted driver who lost control of his car, and the defendant could have implemented no measure to prevent that.
Whether or not you agree additional safety precautions should have been taken, and whether or not you agree some action could have prevented this horrible accident, it serves as a reminder to organizations to be proactive when it comes to safety. The law clearly requires it and the riders clearly deserve it.