No one much thought that tall, slender, Lumberton trial lawyer Woodberry (Woody) Bowen would be the type to roar across North America headed for Alaska on a Harley Davidson Motorcycle.
Call it a midlife crisis, I suppose. I had just finished a three month long trial defending Daniel Green, a man accused of the capital murder of Michael Jordan’s father, James Jordan. The jury spared his life, but mine had been in turmoil for those several months of intense trial and over a year of preparation. Worldwide press coverage was relentless as conspiracy theories flew.
Then a little over 50, I decided just after the trial that the trek of a lifetime was then or never, so I joined several of my lawyer friends, jumped on my Harley Davidson Soft Tail and headed for Alaska. The trip lasted 28 days and spanned 10,300 miles. My roommate was the former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, and the fellowship with him and several other lawyers and their families on our trip made for memories as incredible as the breathtaking scenery along roadways of the Western United States, Canada and the territories.
Like never before, I learned to respect the big, loud Harley for what it could do. But like the boat captain who said, “The sea is so large and my boat is so small”, I also learned so well how vulnerable a motorcycle rider really is.
Typically motorcycle crashes are no fault of the biker. Motorcycle wrecks are caused more often by drivers who just don’t see the bike coming and pull out in front of the motorcycle rider too late for the biker to avoid a crash.
Motorcycle accident injuries are almost always horrendous. Permanent partial or total disability or wrongful death usually results from the crash. Some folks on juries are as insensitive to the rights of bikers in a trial for damages as motorists can be toward bikes on the road. Being a serious rider myself has given me the experience and the passion to develop a juror’s empathy for unprotected biker, even if the juror as never ridden a bike him or herself.
It seems like insurance companies have slammed their wallets shut lately. More often these days it takes a well motivated jury to prize those insurance purses open and award a reasonable amount of money consistent with all the injuries and losses to the rider in the bike wreck.
Nearly forty years of trial practice and over 1000 jury cases have provided me the opportunity to guide the jury through an imaginary slow-motion experience of the victim motorcyclist in the seconds before a life-changing or sometimes life-ending crash. In motorcycle cases, we want to put every juror in that bike saddle in their mind so they can appreciate the unique freedom and exhilaration of the ride. Then we want to lead them finally into the experience of horror from the pain, disability, depression, unemployment, and financial ruin that can be caused by a careless driver.
It has been said, “INJURY is when it happens to you. SERIOUS INJURY is when it happens to ME!” If we can get juries to picture a devastating motorcycle crash happening to them, then just compensation is more likely to result.
I believe that only another biker can become a lawyer capable taking the jury on that all-important imaginary bike ride to the mountaintop of biking excitement and then all the way down to the valley of the shadow of death when, in the twinkling of an eye, the negligence of another motorist profoundly alters or extinguishes an innocent biker’s life.
If a person is injured in a serious motorcycle accident, I think that most would prefer to be represented by a motorcycle injury lawyer who rides.