following reasons, Defendants' motion is granted and
Plaintiffs' motion is denied.
A. Factual Background
On August 19, 1997, at approximately 9:00 p.m., Julie Nunez
("Decedent") died in a tragic bicycle accident. Decedent had
been riding her bicycle in a northerly direction along River
Road in Edgewater, New Jersey, along with her friend, Irvin
Sessoms, when she fell from her bicycle to her death. The
autopsy revealed that the cause of death was injury to the head.
Around the same time, the defendant, Ronald Louis Jackson
("Jackson"), was driving an orange, 18 wheel, tractor-trailer
combination in a northerly direction on River Road. His truck
was stopped by police approximately one or two miles north of
the scene of the accident shortly after 9:00 p.m.
Sessoms, who had been riding behind decedent at the time of
accident, was the only eye-witness. According to Sessoms, an
orange 18-wheel, tractor-trailer struck decedent on her left
arm, causing her to fall from her bicycle to her death.
Plaintiff then brought this wrongful death action against
Jackson and his employer, Schneider National Carriers, alleging
that Jackson's negligent operation of the truck was the cause of
decedent's death. Defendants dispute liability: Jackson denies
ever seeing decedent on the road or being involved in any
Nevertheless, Defendants contend that if a jury were to find
them liable, the amount of damages should be reduced to the
extent that decedent's own negligence contributed to her death.
B. Procedural Background
This action was removed to this Court from the Superior Court
of New Jersey, Hudson County on September 24, 1999. Following
the completion of discovery, Defendants moved for summary
judgment, which motion was denied by this Court. The matter was
set to begin trial on Tuesday, July 16, 2002.
Defendants now move to introduce evidence that decedent's
failure to wear a helmet contributed to her injuries and,
therefore, any damages awarded to plaintiff should be reduced by
decedent's comparative fault. Plaintiffs move separately to
exclude any evidence of helmet nonuse for purposes of proving
comparative negligence to reduce damages.
On Monday, July 15, 2002, the Court heard oral argument from
the parties on these motions.
In diversity actions such as this, when deciding an issue of
state law, the Court must determine which state's law to apply.
This court looks to New Jersey's choice of law rules, Klaxon
Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 61 S.Ct. 1020, 85
L.Ed. 1477 (1941), which provides that the applicable law is
that of the place with the most significant relationship to the
parties and the transaction. Erny v. Estate of Merola,
171 N.J. 86, 792 A.2d 1208 (2002). Under this analysis, it is
undisputed that New Jersey law controls. The decedent lived in
New Jersey and this lawsuit arose out of an accident that
occurred in Edgewater, New Jersey.
The Court, therefore, turns to New Jersey law regarding the
admissibility of evidence of a decedent's failure to wear a
helmet while riding a bicycle on a roadway where motorized
vehicles travel for the purpose of reducing damages. Because no
New Jersey state court has addressed the issue of the helmet
defense, the Court must predict what the New Jersey
Supreme Court would decide on this issue. Commissioner of
Internal Revenue v. Bosch, 387 U.S. 456, 87 S.Ct. 1776, 18
L.Ed.2d 886 (1967); Gruber v. Owens-Illinois, Inc.,
899 F.2d 1366 (3d Cir. 1990).
Initially, the Court notes that evidence of failure to wear a
helmet generally has no relevance on the issue of liability,
since such failure rarely contributes to the cause of an
accident.*fn1 See, e.g., Meyer v. City of Des Moines,
475 N.W.2d 181, 186 (1991). Failure to use a helmet may, however, be
a contributing cause to the injuries sustained and so may be
relevant to the issue of damages. Id.
Many courts addressing the so-called "helmet defense" as an
issue of first impression have drawn upon their state's
application of the more commonly asserted and well established
"seat belt defense." See, e.g., Stehlik v. Rhoads,
253 Wis.2d 477, 645 N.W.2d 889 (2002) (principles applicable to seat belt
defense also govern helmet defense); Meyer v. City of Des
Moines, 475 N.W.2d 181, 186 (Iowa 1991) (failure to wear helmet
analogous to issue of failure to use seat belt); Warfel v.
Cheney, 157 Ariz. 424, 758 P.2d 1326 (Ariz. App. 1988) (same
principles apply to both seat belt nonuse and helmet nonuse).
In Cordy v. Sherwin Williams Co., 975 F. Supp. at 648, a
district court in New Jersey found the seat belt analogy not
very useful. The court reasoned that unlike the New Jersey law
requiring the use of seat belts in cars, no law existed
requiring the use of helmets on bicycles. Similarly, there was
no law for bicycles like the federal law mandating that cars
come equipped with seat belts. The Cordy court found these
disparities to be an implicit recognition by the legislature
that riding a bicycle was not as dangerous as driving a car.
This Court does not find the rationale of the Cordy court
persuasive. The suggestion that riding a bicycle without a
helmet is any less dangerous than driving a car without a seat
belt is not convincing. A bicyclist sharing a road with
motorized vehicles is often exposed to greater danger than the
driver of a car on that same road. In the event of an accident,
the driver of a car is at least shielded from direct impact by
the outer shell of the car, whereas a bicycle offers no such
The Cordy court's reliance on the absence of a mandatory
seat belt law for adults is likewise unpersuasive. Although the
New Jersey legislature does not require the use of helmets by
bicyclists over the age of 14, see N.J.S.A. 39:4-10.1, there
is legislation in place which serves to encourage the voluntary
use of bicycle helmets. For example, retail sellers are required
to affix to bicycles a statement promoting the use of helmets by
bicycle riders. N.J.S.A. 39:4-14.4a. Additionally, pursuant to
statute, the Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs in the
Department of Law and Public Safety is required to promulgate
rules and regulations, including one providing that warning
cards be made readily available at cost to retail sellers of
bicycles stating "This Bike Is Missing One Part." N.J.S.A.
Moreover, helmets, like seat belts, are protective devices,
widely known to aid in the reduction or prevention of death or
injury from accidents. This Court takes judicial notice
(Fed.R.Evid. 201) of the well documented efficacy of helmets in
reducing or preventing death or injury from bicycle
accidents. See Waterson v. General Motors Corp., 111 N.J. 238,
544 A.2d 357 (1988) (taking judicial notice of the effectiveness
of seat belts in reducing death and injury from automobile
Here, uncontradicted studies conducted by various national
agencies reveal that helmets significantly reduce the incidence
of death from head injury, which is the leading cause of
bicycling fatalities. It has been reported that anywhere from 70
to 85 percent of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head
injuries. Nat'l Hwy. Traffic Safety Admin., State Legislative
Fact Sheet (April 2002); see also National Safety Council,
Fact Sheet Library: Enjoy Safe Bicycling,
http://www.nsc.org/library/facts/bicycle.htm (last visited July
11, 2002). According to the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration (NHTSA) at the U.S. Department of Transportation,
"[b]icycle helmets are 85 to 88 percent effective in mitigating
head and brain injuries, making the use of helmets the single
most effective way to reduce head injuries and fatalities
resulting from bicycle crashes." U.S. Dept. Of Trans. Nat'l Hwy.
Traffic Safety Admin., State Legislative Fact Sheet (April
2002); see also Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute ("BHSI"), A
Compendium of Statistics from Various Sources,
http://www.bhsi.org/stats.htm (last visited July 11, 2002).
Indeed, numerous organizations, including the NHTSA, the BHSI
and the National Safety Council promote the use of helmets by
all cyclists. Id.; see also Nat'l Safety Council, Fact Sheet
Library: Enjoy Safe Bicycling,
http://www.nsc.org/library/facts/bicycle.htm (last visited July
At this juncture, the effectiveness of helmets in reducing
death and injury from bicycle accidents cannot reasonably be
disputed: wearing a helmet on a bicycle, like wearing a seat
belt in a car, can prevent or reduce accident related injuries
and fatalities. It is, therefore, appropriate to examine the
genesis of the seat belt defense in New Jersey for purposes of
the availability of a helmet defense.
Because New Jersey law controls, this Court turns to New
Jersey law. In Waterson, 111 N.J. 238, 544 A.2d 357, the New
Jersey Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether a motorist's
failure to wear a seat belt could serve to reduce damages in a
strict liability action. It is critical to recognize that while
at the time Waterson was decided, New Jersey law required
motorists to wear seat belts when driving, see N.J.S.A.
39:3-76.2(f),*fn2 the court was called upon to determine what
the law was in 1980, at a time when "the law required that
automobiles be equipped with seat belts, but there was no law
requiring occupants to use the belts." Waterson, 111 N.J. at
262, 544 A.2d 357 (emphasis added).
Similarly, no law currently exists requiring the use of
helmets by adult bicyclists. Rather, adults are free to make
their own decisions as to whether or not to wear a helmet.
Additionally, although no New Jersey law requires that bicycles
be equipped with helmets, the public policy expressed in the
legislature's helmet laws does encourage the voluntary use of
helmets. See N.J.S.A. 39:4-10.1, 39:4-14.4a, 39:4-14.7a.
In deciding whether to adopt the seat belt defense, the
Waterson court carefully and approvingly considered New Jersey
state court decisions prior to the enactment of the New Jersey
mandatory seat belt law. At the time, only three New Jersey
state courts had addressed the issue. Id. at 263,
544 A.2d 357. In
discussing Barry v. Coca Cola, 99 N.J. Super. 270, 239 A.2d 273
(Law Div. 1967), the court observed:
The court adopted the position articulated in the
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 465 (captioned
"causal Relation Between Harm and Plaintiffs
Negligence") that the courts will apportion damages
in contributory negligence cases only where the
evidence supports a finding that plaintiffs
negligence was a `substantial contributing factor' to
the injuries ultimately sustained.
Waterson, 111 N.J. at 252-53,