NJ Supreme Court Won’t Review Bike Helmet Lawsuit

On July 15, 2018, the New Jersey Supreme Court declined to review a lower court’s decision where a jury unanimously ruled in favor of Bell Sports U.S.A. (Bell). In 2008, Carl Lawson and his wife Gloria, brought a products liability lawsuit against Bell, a bicycle helmet manufacturer, claiming that the teardrop design of Lawson’s bicycle helmet contributed to his injuries. According to Lawson’s 2015 appeal, Lawson was mountain biking while wearing a Bell Solar Fusion bicycle helmet when he lost control of his bicycle, flipped over the handle bars, and landed on his head. As a result, he suffered cervical fractures and quadriplegia.

In the lawsuit, the Lawson’s claimed that “the elongated ‘teardrop’ design of the helmet was a design defect under the New Jersey Product Liability Act.” According to the Act, “[a] manufacturer or seller of a product shall be liable in a product liability action only if the claimant proves by a preponderance of the evidence that the product causing the harm was not reasonably fit, suitable or safe for its intended purpose because it . . . was designed in a defective manner.” At trail, the Lawson’s expert witness testified that the teardrop design of the helmet was unreasonably dangerous because, (1) the design had a propensity to interfere with the completion of a somersault, which is the best thing a bicyclist can do in an over-the-handlebars accident, (2) the design had a propensity to dig into the surface and constrain head movement upon impact, and (3) the design could impose rotational forces on the head and neck that can also enhance the severity of injuries.

However, in April 2015, a jury ruled against the Lawson’s and in favor of Bell. The Lawson’s then challenged various rulings made by the trial court judge during the trial, including the denial of an adjournment request, several evidentiary rulings, and one procedural issue. The appellate panel upheld the lower court’s ruling and held that the lower court did not abuse its discretion. The Lawson’s then appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which most recently denied their request.

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