Case Proceeds Against Metro-North After Man Falls From Platform Before Oncoming Train

Connecticut Law Tribune
Robert Storace
July 11, 2019

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 did not preempt negligence claims against Metro-North Railroad over the 2013 death of Kevin Murphy, who slipped from the platform and fell in front of an oncoming train.

The Connecticut Supreme Court has overturned a lower court ruling that found Metro-North Railroad was not liable for the death of a Darien man who slipped on a patch of ice on the platform and fell on the tracks in front of an oncoming train.

In a 5-0 ruling, the justices remanded the case to Bridgeport Superior Court for a jury trial, finding the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 did not preempt negligence claims against Metro-North.
The case, Murphy v. Darien, initially pitted widow Jamey Murphy against Metro-North and the town of Darien, but the municipality was later removed as a defendant.

The sole issue was whether the FRSA preempted negligence claims over the death of Murphy’s husband, Kevin, who died when he fell in front of a train traveling 70 mph. The Bridgeport Superior Court found it didn’t, but the state’s high court disagreed.
The plaintiff is seeking monetary damages. She argued Metro-North was negligent for having the speeding train, which had no scheduled stop at the station, travel on the tracks closest to the platform.

“In layman’s terms, there is no federal regulation on track selection,” said Cowdery & Murphy attorney James Healy, one of three plaintiff lawyers representing Murphy’s estate. “That was our point and that’s why federal preemption did not apply here.”

The high court agreed, siding with the plaintiff over the train company.
Writing for the majority, Justice Raheem Mullins wrote: “In the present case, the defendant asserts that the trial court correctly concluded that, although there is no regulation expressly addressing the selection of an interior or exterior track for trains, the general regulatory scheme of track classification substantially subsumes the subject matter of the plaintiff’s claim. We disagree.”

Plaintiff counsel Healy celebrated the decision.

“I give the high court a lot of credit,” he told the Connecticut Law Tribune Thursday. “The issue of track selection hasn’t been decided in any other written decision that either party is aware of. The Supreme Court did their work. They understood the preemption analysis and applied it correctly.”

Healy added, “The evidence indicates that Metro-North’s usual practice was not to run trains in the tracks immediately adjacent to the platform when an interior track was available. If the train ran on an interior track, which is one track removed from the platform, this accident would not have happened.”

Fellow plaintiff counsel Joel Faxon, a partner with New Haven-based Faxon Law Group, said Murphy “was pleased with the result and, quite frankly, was confident the entire time that the trial court’s decision would be reversed.”

Faxon said the “case definitely is a high seven-figure value case” and expects to go to trial at the end of this year or early 2020.

Assisting Healy and Faxon for the plaintiffs side was John D’Ambrosio, an attorney with Cowdery & Murphy.

Metro-North spokeswoman Nancy Gamerman declined to comment.

Representing the company are Stamford and Bridgeport-based Ryan Ryan DeLuca attorneys Robert Hickey and Beck Fineman, and attorney Kerianne Kane with Saxe Doernberger & Vita in Trumbull.

“We are studying the decision and contemplating our options,” Hickey said, without elaboration. Fineman did not respond to a request for comment and Kane declined to comment.