When Tom McGrath began riding motorcycles in the early nineties, he was working as a prosecutor for the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office in Richmond. Around the same time, the state introduced High Occupancy Vehicle travel lanes, commonly known as HOV. McGrath found it interesting that motorcycles would not be permitted to use these travel lanes, even though there would be fewer cars in these lanes, thus making them safer for riders.
McGrath decided to do something about it by approaching the governor and the Department of Transportation, and eventually his voice was heard. He affected the change in the law that allowed motorcycle riders, with or without a passenger, to use the new HOV lanes. So began his new career, advocating for motorcycle riders in the courtroom and in the legislator’s office.
McGrath started the Motorcycle Law Group, taking on new partners over the years and spreading from Virginia to North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Georgia. When Liz Sorrell joined the Motorcycle Law Group, she too was working as a prosecutor in the Commonwealth’s Attorney office in Richmond.
About the career change she says, “There is nothing more exciting than being in the courtroom as a prosecutor, knowing that you have the power to help someone by giving them a break, or that you have the power to help keep the community safe by not giving someone a break. When I went into private practice I was reluctant because I thought, ‘who am I going to be helping?’” Fellow attorney Matt Danielson explained to her that motorcycle riders are often mistreated and misunderstood by the insurance companies, automobile drivers, even law enforcement. The more she listened the more inspired she became. “It was easy to again become passionate about helping people who don’t always get a fair shake,” Sorrell says.
Tom Mcgrath’s Motorcycle Law Group is unique in many ways. Unlike other firms that specialize in helping motorcycle riders, everyone who works in the Motorcycle Law Group also rides. From the attorneys to the paralegals and even the receptionists, the members of the group know the challenges that riders face and where they need help because they have learned firsthand. However, the Motorcycle Law Group doesn’t just help injured motorcyclists in the courtroom; it legislates for them as well.
Sorrell says, “We take a percentage of our attorney fees and put it into a fund called the Virginia Coalition of Motorcyclists, a PAC (political action committee). Every year on Martin Luther King Day we sponsor a dinner in Richmond, when riders come and talk about what issues they are facing on the road, and the next day we go to the legislator’s office where we lobby, and we follow it up with lunch at the Penny Lane Pub. And behind the scenes we lobby all year about things coming down the path.”
Issues such as how paving operations run, what type of signage is up on the roads and using grit in road paint to prevent loss of traction might not receive the attention needed if it wasn’t for the voice motorcyclists have through Motorcycle Law Group. While riders need the professional help of attorneys, Sorrell explains that the single biggest issue is something with which we can all help. “Eighty percent of the cases we see come from motorcycles colliding with cars making a left-hand turn,” she says. “The motorcyclist thinks he’s been seen, but the driver of the car is looking further down the road because that person is trained to see two headlights and four wheels. So the car pulls out and the rider is unable to avoid a crash.”
Sorrell emphasizes that awareness is what motorcyclists need from drivers. “The majority of motorcyclists are safe, but what people remember is the one they saw going fast, weaving in and out of traffic,” she says. “We all just need to work together. Automobile and truck drivers need to respect us and we need to respect them.”
TO THE POINT:
Tom Mcgrath’s Motorcycle Law Group
Contact: Liz Sorrell (Newport News and Richmond)
Address: 763 J. Clyde Morris Blvd., Suite 1-D, Newport News, VA 23606