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Colon v. Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 22, 2018

MILTON OMAR COLON and ARLENE DAVIS, Plaintiffs,
v.
METRO-NORTH COMMUTER RAILROAD COMPANY, and METROPOLITAN TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, Defendants. METRO-NORTH COMMUTER RAILROAD COMPANY and METROPOLITAN TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, Third-Party Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED ILLUMINATING COMPANY, Third-Party Defendant.

          RULING ON CROSS MOTIONS FOR JUDGMENT AS TO THIRD PARTY COMPLAINT

          JEFFREY ALKER MEYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case arises from a lawsuit by plaintiffs Omar Colon and Arlene Davis as a result of severe electrocution injuries sustained by Colon when he climbed a catenary tower along the railroad tracks in New Haven, Connecticut. After plaintiffs filed suit against defendants Metro-North Commuter Railroad Company (“Metro-North”) and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (“MTA”), the defendants in turn filed a third-party complaint for indemnification against the United Illuminating Company (“UI”).

         At issue now is whether UI must indemnify Metro-North and/or the MTA for their costs in defending against plaintiffs' lawsuit. In light of the jury's finding that Colon was not injured by UI's wires, I conclude that UI has no duty to indemnify Metro-North or the MTA.

         BACKGROUND

         The background facts of this case are set forth at greater length in my earlier summary judgment ruling. See Colon v. Metro-N. Commuter R.R. Co., 242 F.Supp.3d. 65, 69-71 (D. Conn. 2017). As relevant now, Colon was electrocuted on March 17, 2011, after he climbed high up a catenary tower alongside the railroad tracks in New Haven, Connecticut.

         At the time of Colon's injury, the State of Connecticut owned the railroad right-of-way, railroad tracks, and the catenary towers. Metro-North operated the railroad pursuant to a contract with the Connecticut Department of Transportation (“CDOT”) and the MTA.

         The catenary towers carried one set of electrical wires that was owned by Metro-North and used to power the trains. In addition, the catenary tower where Colon was injured also carried a separate set of wires owned by UI. These wires were installed pursuant to a separate transmission line agreement between UI and CDOT. See Doc. #515-1 (transmission line agreement).

         After Colon climbed high up the tower, he was eventually found dangling upside-down with his body touching one of Metro-North's wires. According to Colon, he found himself in this position because he was somehow stricken or affected by hidden and invisible static electricity from either or both sets of Metro-North and UI wires, such that he then fell into contact with the lower set of Metro-North wires.

         After a two-week trial in August 2017, the jury determined that plaintiffs had failed to prove three of the five required elements for their tort claim against Metro-North and the MTA. This included a specific finding that Colon's injuries were not caused by a hidden danger such as static electricity. See Doc. #494 at 1; Doc. #496 at 8-9. The jury was also posed a special interrogatory asking specifically whether the UI wires “directly or indirectly caused” Colon's injuries, and the jury found that the UI wires did not directly or indirectly cause Colon's injuries. Id. at 3.

         Despite the jury's finding that UI's wires did not cause Colon's injury, Metro-North and the MTA seek indemnification from UI for the cost of defending against plaintiffs' lawsuit. The indemnification is sought pursuant to Article X of the UI-CDOT transmission line agreement which provides as follows:

Power Company [UI] agrees to indemnify, protect and save harmless the State or State's Designee [Metro-North] from and against all cost or expense resulting from any and all loss or damage to the property of the State or State's Designee and from any and all loss of life or property, or injury or damage to the person or property of any third person, firm or corporation … and from any and all claims, demands or actions for such loss, injury or damage directly or indirectly caused by the presence or use or the construction, installation, maintenance, removal, change or relocation and subsequent removal of the Transmission System and appurtenances thereto, excepting such loss, damage or injury as shall be due solely to the negligence of the agents or servants of the State or State's designee.

Doc. #515-1 at 22-23 (emphasis added). Having agreed that it is for the Court to decide whether UI is liable for indemnification in light of the jury's finding, both parties now move for judgment as to the third-party complaint. See Docs. #514, #520.

         DISCUSSION

         Under Connecticut law, “a contract must be construed to effectuate the intent of the parties, which is determined from the language used interpreted in light of the situation of the parties and the circumstances connected with the transaction. The intent of the parties is to be ascertained by a fair and reasonable construction of the written words and the language used must be accorded its common, natural, and ordinary meaning and usage where it can be sensibly applied to the subject matter of the writing.” Murtha v. City of Hartford, 303 Conn. 1, 7 (2011) (internal citations, quotation marks, and alterations omitted). “Where the language of the writing is clear and unambiguous, the writing is to be given effect according ...


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