The Texas Thin Blue Line MC tragedy was a horrific accident within motorcycle circles. The worst part about the accident was it was totally preventable. Three bikers lost their lives in addition to another nine injured because someone decided to drive drunk on the highway. Patrick Andeson of the National Academy of Motorcycle Injury Lawyers interviews motorcycle accident lawyer Jon Groth to discuss this case and what would happen if this occurred in Wisconsin.
Listen to the Audio File Here:
Patrick Anderson: All right. Well, welcome back. My name is Patrick Anderson. I am your host, and today as our special guest, we have Jon Groth with the Groth Law Firm. Jon is also a founding member of the National Academy of Motorcycle Injury Lawyers. And today, we are talking about the Thin Blue Line Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club crash, that terrible tragedy that happened in Kerrville, Texas last weekend, July 18th. So for those of you who do not know, you know, this guy was drunk in the middle of the afternoon, came across the center line and just plowed into this group of bikers who were out on a pleasant ride right after lunch. Terrible, terrible thing.
So three people killed, four injured, one had a terrible injury to his leg and I was able to talk to Steve Wyatt who is the president of the Fort Myers chapter and Steve was telling me all about the goodwill that they do in the community. I mean, they support food banks. They lookout for the homeless. They take care of money for families of officers who have been killed in the line of duty and just a lot of really tremendously good things in the community outreach and everything else. So the other thing that Steve told me is that there is going to be about two hundred to three hundred riders at each of the three funerals. They had people up in Chicago and Texas that were, you know, killed. And so, for you, Jon, what I wanted to ask you is a question that is on a lot of the minds of our listeners and that is how would you go and get justice for these riders if this terrible tragedy happened in Wisconsin?
Jon Groth: Hey. It is just a horrific matter to even discuss. I mean, motorcycle clubs do so much good for the community. One of the ways that we have to look at this is a matter of gathering evidence and figuring out what is going on and exactly what happened at the particular moment. You have to look at it as if you have been there before, meaning that you handle these kinds of cases before. And you know, my firm, our attorneys we have, these are things that sadly we have handled a number of these kinds of situations, where we have to get an investigator involved and really look at the scene and figure out what took place. My understanding is that the riders were driving staggered like this short right and that they were not doing anything wrong, you know. With that, you have to look at what is the evidence on the ground? And that is literally what is the evidence on the ground? Where are any skid marks, [inaudible] marks? So where is your gloves? Where did your boots end up? You know, things like that so you can figure out after you get an investigator involved and maybe n accident reconstructionist to see well what happened. How fast was this person going? Where were they going? How long was that other driver, the at-fault driver, maybe going in and out of traffic or how long was it before he went across the line.
You know, things like that. It is so important, as soon as you can after a crash, to get the evidence and with that, you want to make sure that you get there before mother nature comes in with a storm to take it away or you have somebody who just is doing their job in cleaning the streets comes and takes it away. And then, so you have the evidence on the ground. In addition, you have to make sure you can try to get as many videos as you can. A lot of our clubs have videos on the bikes, which is fantastic because that gives you real evidence real video, live video of what actually took place. So you want to get that in addition to any videos that are maybe in the sky if there is something on a stoplight, on a stop sign, on any kind of Department of Motor Vehicles pull. So you can grab that evidence also. So those are very important things in addition to getting the evidence from people’s memories. You know, the longer you wait, the hazier it is going to be. So you want to make sure you get one of your investigator, one of our investigators over there to speak to as many witnesses as you can so we can make sure that we preserve and know what actually took place because you are going to get many different perspectives and there might be somebody who is driving by who see something and thought they saw something different and that could change the whole tenor of the situation.
Patrick: Right. Now, there is different legal issues you are telling me with the injuries as opposed to taking care of the families of the people who got killed. What do you do for them at this real trying time when they are trying to plan for funerals and everything?
Jon: Well, that is such a terrible thing to really have to do up to this point because you want to be able to, as the family, want to be there for the person who you just lost and that is traumatic and that is not only financially trying. It is mentally trying. It is physically trying. So what we want to provide and what we do provide is assistance, so you can get little peace of mind to understand we are going to do all the heavy lifting for you in investigating the crash and trying to figure it out from there what we can do to alleviate some of the stress at this particular moment in time. And that is getting whatever we can and immediate money to get medical bills paid or the funeral bill paid. You know, things like that. You also have to understand that in Wisconsin, there is a wrongful death statute. So when somebody passes away because of somebody else’s negligence, we would create what is called like a special administration. You know, it is kind of like a probate kind of matter, but you create that so then you can have that legal entity go and investigate what took place. So we would do that for you. We do that for all of our victims, everyone who has passed away because of somebody else’s negligence. So then we can continue and while you grieve and do what you need to be doing, we can do what we need to do to protect your rights and make sure that we are not leaving any stone unturned.
Patrick: Right. And then it is different for the people who are still alive and then they are not able to work. Their medical bills are going to stack up. What do you do for them?
Jon: Well, so that is a very good point, too, Patrick, is that you know with the number of people who have been injured and then killed in this crash, you want to separate the two. So you want to look at the wrongful death, the people who have passed away, and then create those entities for them. And then for the people who are currently with us and still suffering and maybe even in the hospital to this day. We want to make sure that you are working with them to figure out, well, is the right insurance being tapped. You know, are you submitting medical bills to insurance? There is a thing in Wisconsin called the Collateral Source Rule. Some auto insurance or motorcycle insurance companies that the adjusters will say, “Well, submit all the bills to the insurance, to the biker insurance.” That is not the way to do it. It needs to go. It should go through health insurance because you want to make sure that you are not suffering financial losses. Because you may only have let us say Med-Pay in Wisconsin is one thousand, five thousand, ten thousand dollars. If you have a fifteen thousand dollar hospital bill from a helicopter flight, that is going to eat up all your Med-Pay right away. So the adjusters’ advice is really wrong.
You know, it is something where you need to make sure that you understand what is going to be done now. So we can certainly help you in the end and how to maximize the case, how to maximize the benefit for those people so they have money that they can not only help them through to get your medical bills, your co-pays, any other expenses you might have in the short term, but also the medium and long-term with long-term care. And then what is your wage loss? You know, how many hours of wages? How many weeks? How many months of wages have you suffered? So we can make sure that you are not having those ongoing problems for years to come. So you have to look at it in a manner that you can optimize to maximize the recovery now and at the end. It can really get your complex really fast. And that is why you want to make sure that you have somebody who has been there from the beginning and try these cases and knows the strategy going in right now and what that is going to do. What a yes or no answer to some certain question right now and how that will affect you three years from now.
Patrick: Got you. Got you. Now, obviously, this guy was drunk. He had been drinking what I also heard from the news is that he has had other felony arrests. And actually, I do not know the details, but he ran over a guy with his truck at the bar and then jump down, attacked him, bit his ear. He is just a terrible, terrible guy. But how do you handle situations like this was a drunk driver or somebody has other issues.
Jon: Well, and this goes to really seeking justice, right, is you want to be able to get compensation so you can help the families, you can help the injured party at this point and their family. And then you have to look at really social justice and what is going to happen to tell others, “Hey. Do not do this in the future. You cannot be drunk. You can not be high. You can not drive in this kind of manner.” In Wisconsin, it is horrific. Right? I mean, we have stories of people who are two, three, four, five, nine times drunk drivers. It is just a terrible situation and when you are in a motorcycle club and you are on the road, the last thing you expect is somebody in the middle of the day to be drunk driving and cross the centerline, you know. So what we do and what I have appeared for and in by my clients in the criminal courts is standing there so we can make sure that they are protected the entire way. In Wisconsin, luckily, there is usually a victim’s assistant who is assigned by the DEA to stand with the families, stand with the injured party. But we want to make sure that anything that is said in court and anything we can do to get more information and get more evidence is done and done in the right way.
So we are also protecting them because, you know, criminal courts, there are speedy trials . Civil courts are not speedy. So you might have a criminal trial for the at-fault person that takes place within, I do not know, six months or something else. But at that same six-month period, an injured party may just be getting out of physical therapy, you know, their case may not be anywhere near ready to settle at that point. So we would still be gathering information from that at-fault party. So you go to court with and stand side by side with the injured, you know, with the victim in that situation and talk to them and make our case, help them explain to the judge what is going on. Because in these kinds of situations, you always see it on TV. It is something that almost always happens where you have the at-fault person, the criminal, there with their family and saying this is, you know, an accident. Do us a once-in-a-lifetime thing or whatever it is going to be and, of course, it is their family member so they are going to do that. But we need to be able to be the voice for the victim in this situation and stand there with them and give them the confidence, give them the knowledge, give them the information so they can make their voice heard so you can really serve justice and make sure that the judge hears both sides of the story and understands really what took place.
Patrick: Yeah. Now. in this case, it is pretty clear-cut. You know who the at-fault party is, but I remember back a while with Tracy Morgan and he was, you know, run into at this Walmart semi-truck, and then the Walmart attorneys came back and tried to say well, he was at fault because he was not wearing a seat belt, which it just seemed ridiculous at the time, but I found out afterward that this happens a lot. You know, attorneys will try to play games with the blame game. And now, what are issues with comparative or contributory negligence there in Wisconsin?
Jon: Well, that is the big question. I mean that is the magic word you got there, Patrick, where you and I understand this and many people who are in our world, you know, the certainly insurance adjusters and insurance defense attorneys understand this. But many others do not because you assume if somebody crosses the centerline, well, they are faults or if somebody rear-ends somebody else, the person who did the rear-ending is at fault. But in Wisconsin, there is a thing called contributory negligence and there is comparative negligence. So comparative negligence says that if you are fifty percent or more at fault, you have to pay for the other person’s damages. Now, what that means for my clients is as the victims, they have to show that they were not more at fault than the other party. If the defense attorney, for example, can point the finger at my client and say for some reason they are fifty-one percent at fault, then they recover zero. They get nothing, which is preposterous, but that is the law and that is what we live with, so we have to right away gather whatever evidence we can to make sure that we are looking at those scales of justice and making sure that we have it. So it is teetering more towards the at-fault party.
Then, you have contributory negligence that, you know, what could we have done differently. You know with a thing called conspicuity, you know. Are you looking? Did you see what you are looking at to make sure that you are taking the right maneuvers? You are not making evasive action and things like that. Those are all very important things and certainly when you are looking at that fifty:fifty and fifty-one:forty-nine, that is the pretty tight line or pretty close call right there. So we need to make sure that we know right away that we have all the evidence we need to push that in our client’s favor and it is something that can be as nonsensical or as innocent-seeming as an adjuster calling somebody right after a crash and saying, “Hey. How fast were you going? Well, is it this fast? Was it that fast? Was there a bend in the road or was it hilly?” Whatever they are saying, they are saying that for a reason and trying to get a statement from you for a reason so they can reduce their negligence because they want to try to get you over that hump and try to fit that you are fifty-one percent are more responsible. So that is so important that you do not say anything. You wait until you get an attorney and we can do all the talking so we can protect your rights, because comparative negligence, contributory negligence in Wisconsin is really a tough deal. And it is certainly sometimes people say it is not fair, but that is the law that we are dealt with and that is what we have to deal with.
Patrick: Yeah, it is not only not fair, but, you know, they try some weasel moves on their end so they can deny your claim or not pay. I have seen that before, and there is no real hard and fast rule about what these percentages are, right? Is it not just a matter of how well you negotiate or what leverage you did?
Jon: Correct. And you know, it is something, Patrick, that ultimately, no one is going to know. Even if you go to trial, the jury is not going to know what their determination is, you know, what the real meaning of that is. So if the jury comes back and says it is fifty-one:forty-nine in a certain manner and it is against the victim, they might think, “Oh, well, that is fair because they assume that the jury or that the jury gave forty-nine percent of the damages to the victim. Because they are never told, that is what I think is a little bit unfair because the jury might think something when the law is the exact opposite. So you have to understand that insurance companies know all this and they have investigators, attorneys that are doing whatever they can to minimize what they have to pay because that is how they can afford to be on TV every sixteen seconds or however often it is. And that is how they can afford to be in the big buildings and have the big names, be a spokesman for them because they know how to whittle away at the damages and try to minimize whatever they can and whenever they can.
Patrick: Now, another question that comes up quite a bit is people are always wondering about what is pain and suffering and what is punitive damages? And in this case, since the guy has, you know, had other arrests and everything, do punitive damages apply or what is the real issue there?
Jon: Sure. Well, there is a couple of things with that, Patrick. You know, you have pain and suffering. So in Wisconsin, it is really best to described as pain, suffering, disability, and loss of enjoyment of life. So it is the pain you are going through. You are not able to be pain-free unless you take medication or you have physical therapy on things like that. The disability maybe you are not able to move your arm like you could, you know because you have a loss of range of motion. You know that is something, too. And then simply loss of enjoyment of life. You know, you are not able to ride. I was not able to ride for six months let us say after a crash. Well, that is really a big loss if you are somebody who likes just throwing darts.
Well, if you are not able to for a long period of time, that is a loss of enjoyment of life and that is something that needs to be compensated and the law in Wisconsin says that is something that a jury ultimately, that we would argue in a settlement or at trial that that is what the jury has to account for is take the person before. What were they doing to enjoy their life? What were they doing to be pain-free? You know, what were they doing while they were pain-free? And then take them after the crash and look at it in different chunks of time, because you are going to have, if you are in the hospital for a few days, you lost everything. You know, you are not able to do anything. You are not able to mow your lawn or do just little things around the house. And then medium-term, you know physical therapy gets in the way of being able to go to kid’s birthday parties or whatever that is. And then long-term, if you have a disability and you are not able to do what you could do before. That is a big difference.
So you want to look at that portion to say that is what pain and suffering is. It is those different elements, and then there is punitive damages. Now, punitive damages come into play when somebody asks for an intentional disregard of somebody else’s rights. So if you are really drunk and you are driving and you are aware that, “Hey, if you are drunk driving, you are gonna endanger somebody else.” That is pretty obvious. It can be something where you are texting and driving and there is signs everywhere now, right, that says texting and driving can be very dangerous. It can kill. So you want to make sure that when you are gathering evidence that you look at what was the at-fault person doing. Was it drunk driving? Texting driving? Was it something where they were if they are over the road carrier, maybe they did not get enough sleep and they knew that, “Hey, if you do not get enough sleep, you are going to be drowsy driving.” You know, things like that.
Those things all could put punitive damages in play. Punitive damages, then go towards looking at something as punishing somebody else and trying to then make that person responsible in a fashion that is going to show others, “Hey. Because I did this bad deed, this bad act that I am going to get punished,” and then you look at other people and say okay. The damages might be five hundred thousand dollars or whatever would be enough to deter others from doing that bad act. You know, what I always say in my trials is I want a jury to award an amount of money that tomorrow morning, when somebody wakes up and they say, “Okay. I am going to do X, Y, and Z today. Well, maybe I will have to take a second look because I do not want to get punitive damages of that amount of money on me. So I am going to deter that. I am going to stop from doing that bad act.”
Patrick: Right. That is another form of justice, as well. Well, one thing I just learned, Jon, and maybe you can talk about this. But when I bought my insurance, my agent told me I was going to have full coverage. So I really thought that meant something. But now, I come to find out that I did not at all have the right coverage I needed it for my motorcycle and for my family if something happened. So what can you tell us about insurance in Wisconsin?
Jon: Sure. Well, and this is going back to the beginning of our conversation about what kind of compensation we can get to help people in the short-term, medium-term, and long-term. And that goes towards really the term full coverage. Full coverage, it does not really mean anything, right, Patrick? I mean, full coverage is whatever the law says in that state. So in Wisconsin, an insurance agent could sell you coverage saying it is full coverage and it is only twenty-five thousand dollars in coverage. Well, twenty-five thousand dollars, if you are on a bike and you have to get a helicopter to fly it to the local hospital, that could be sixteen thousand, twenty thousand dollars. Well, that is almost all gone. So full coverage is really something that you have to look at differently in every person’s life, because there are easy ways that you can get as much coverage as you can and that is with uninsured and underinsured motor coverage. And then the little trick of the trade, I say, and something that insurance agents love to sell you because it is pretty cheap to sell and it is an easy sell and that is an umbrella policy and tie that into your uninsured or underinsured policy.
So then you might be paying for a hundred thousand dollars in coverage, but if you have an umbrella policy, the umbrella could be a million dollars and that is really what you have to use to protect yourself against somebody else’s negligence. Because if somebody else is drunk driving, for example, they are not responsible, which means it probably do not have much of any insurance. They may just have the state limit which again is twenty-five thousand dollars. But if what they did, send you in a helicopter to a hospital, that right there is twenty, thirty, how many thousands of dollars just in medical bills? And then you just stay overnight, and then if you lost your wages, if you have other incidental costs, too, it could be tens upon tens of thousands of dollars of bills that you have to pay.
Now, those are things that you really need to look at your insurance in a fashion, in a way that you are going to protect yourself from somebody else’s negligence, from somebody else’s bad act. And you have to take anything that an insurance agent says and really look at it really carefully and I would be happy to sit down with you, too. That is something we offer, our free insurance reviews, and you can look at that and I can tell you examples of “Okay, this is what in Wisconsin the average emergency room bill is,” and I have created bills that I can show you pretty darn easily. Say this is what this means. So if, God forbid, you are involved in a crash, this is the kind of coverage you should probably have to really protect you and protect your family. So you do not have the additional wage loss that you have just lost because you do not have enough insurance coverage.
Patrick: Right. And then you are not trying to sell insurance. So you just give them people really good advice from your experience.
Patrick: That is wonderful. Now, we have been talking about injuries and accidents and crashes, but if somebody has other issues like if they are pulled over for a DUI, or if they need criminal defense or something to do with second amendment rights, do you still want them to call your office? And how would you help them then?
Jon: Sure, and I tell everybody that I want to be your attorney and I will help you in any way I can. If I am not able to do it, I have a network of attorneys across the state in all seventy-two counties that I can get you to and somebody that I trust, that I shook their hand. I looked at them, you know, eye-to-eye and I understand who these people are and I know how they work with their clients, how they work hard for their clients. So I will be happy to give you a referral to somebody if I can help you. If I can, that is fantastic. I will do my best. But otherwise, if it is somebody that is closer to you and your part of the state. I would be happy to get you somebody that I trust and hopefully you can trust them too.
Patrick: Right. So it is a phone call to you and the advice, is that all free?
Jon: It is all free, certainly. You can give me a call, seven days a week. We have somebody who is always available. The phone number is 414-999-0000. It is pretty easy to remember. 414-999-0000. And our website is grothlawfirm.com or milwaukeebikerattorney.com.
Patrick: Jon, that is great. Really appreciate your time today. Now, at the break, you also mentioned that you had a free legal guide for motorcycle compensation if somebody has been in a crash, and then also a rider VIP card with extra benefits.
Jon: Yes, you can go to our website and you will get directed over and you can just request that or you can give us a call, we can send one to you. I would be happy to do that also. But probably the easiest way is to go onto our website, fill out the form and we will get it off to you.
Patrick: All right. Well, we have been talking with Jon Groth with the Groth Law Firm, and Jon, is also a founding member of the National Academy of Motorcycle Injury Lawyers. Jon, thanks for your time today. And listen, we are about to go into a break, but would you do me a favor and stick around? I got a couple more questions for you.
Jon: Will do. All right. Thank you, Patrick.
Patrick: All right. Thank you.
Jon: Good talking to you.