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Man Urinates, Gets Electrocuted in Subway Tunnel

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on July 09, 2013 9:21 AM

An intoxicated man was fatally electrocuted in a New York City subway station when he urinated on the electrified third rail in Brooklyn.

Matthew Zeno, 30, was walking with a friend along the tracks of the southbound G train about 3:10 a.m. Monday when the horrific accident occurred.

Can anyone be held liable for Zeno's death?

Friend Electrocuted Too

Zeno's 26-year-old friend tried to save him, but was also shocked. The friend, however, was able to flag down subway workers, who in turn called for help, reports the New York Post.

Both men were rushed to a hospital, where Zeno died and the second man was listed in stable condition.

If Zeno's friend or relatives pursue legal action, one question that may arise is whether the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway system, was negligent in any way. The MTA is a common carrier and owes a duty of care to its passengers, including Matthew Zeno and his friend.

For example, if Zeno's death could've been prevented by taking reasonable precautions, the MTA may find itself named in a wrongful death lawsuit.

It's unclear whether the third rail was covered or not. If the rail wasn't covered by protective boards and there were no signs alerting riders to the exposed third rail, then the MTA could potentially face liability.

Zeno's Negligence?

While a potentially unguarded third rail located a few feet from public platforms may present a safety risk, the MTA could try to counter that Zeno was negligent by urinating on the third rail.

The doctrine of comparative negligence reduces a plaintiff's recovery by the percentage in which the plaintiff is at fault for his or her own injuries.

New York follows a "pure comparative negligence" model. That means Zeno's negligence, no matter how great, would not bar recovery, but the damages recoverable would be reduced in proportion to his negligence.

In addition, when a plaintiff assumes the risk involved in an obviously dangerous activity but proceeds to engage in the activity anyway, he or she may not be able recover damages for injuries.

In order for this doctrine to apply, the plaintiff must have actual, subjective knowledge of the risk involved in the activity. While the third rail is commonly known to have a dangerously high voltage, whether Zeno knew or should have known this fact could potentially be contested in court.

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