Connecticut Supreme Court says lawsuit against Metro North involving a Darien man struck and killed by a train can proceed

Hartford Courant
Edmund H. Mahony
July 05, 2019

The state Supreme Court ruled Friday that the estate of a man struck and killed by a Metro-North train can press a suit against the commuter line because state negligence claims are not automatically preempted by the federal government’s rail safety regulations.

The decision grew out of a suit by the family of an investment banker from Darien who slipped on a 9-foot long ice patch while hustling for a 6:30 a.m. train at the Noroton Heights train station in March 2013. Kevin Murphy slipped off the platform and into the path of a westbound express or through train, which at that moment was barreling through the station, on the track closest to the platform, at about 70 mph. The engineer saw Murphy fall, but was unable to stop in time to avoid striking him.

Murphy’s estate sued in state Superior Court, arguing that, as a matter of safety, Metro-North has an obligation to route high-speed through trains on tracks away from commuter platforms when the trains rush through commuter stations. The Superior Court dismissed the suit, concluding that virtually all areas of rail safety, including track selection, are covered by the all-encompassing Federal Railroad Safety Act — which preempts or bars claims under state law, such as negligence suits.

“This really is a matter of common sense,” said attorney Joel Faxon, who with attorney James Healy, brought the appeal to the Supreme Court. “Why would you have a 70 mph train blasting through a station on a track next to a platform? A lot of these stations are really decrepit. And there is evidence that some of these trains create enough suction to draw people to the tracks. Metro-North’s own rules advise running trains on tracks away from platforms.”

There has been some speculation that Friday’s ruling would lead to a spike in negligence suits against Metro-North. But Healy said the Supreme Court’s narrowly focused ruling in the Murphy case make that unlikely, although it could give the state more voice in rail issues and provide “some encouragement for these kinds of suits.”

Attorneys for Metro-North were not immediately available. The commuter line could appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

related professionals
  •  Murphy v. Metro-North Railroad, 332 Conn. 34 (2019)