Charles Reed, managing partner of Loughlin Fitzgerald in Wallingford, Connecticut.
Charles Reed, managing partner of Loughlin Fitzgerald in Wallingford, Connecticut. (Courtesy photo)

A federal grand jury ruled Tuesday that Metro-North Commuter Railroad and United Illuminating Co. are not liable for injuries a man suffered after falling 45 feet from a utility tower in West Haven.

New Haven resident Omar Colon fell from the tower and was electrocuted after landing on power lines owned by Metro-North in March 2011. Colon, who was 26 at the time, had both legs amputated.

Connecticut owns the tower in question. Metro-North manages, operates and maintains the 70-foot high electric transmission tower located along a railroad track. UI inspects, repairs and maintains the wires.

A lawsuit seeking at least $20 million was filed in April 2014.

The trial, which lasted more than two weeks, hinged on whether there was sufficient signage to warn people of the dangers of the tower. In addition, the jury did not believe Colon’s argument that he fell due to an electrical jolt, according to Charles Reed, an attorney for UI and managing partner of Loughlin Fitzgerald in Wallingford. Colon used the tower’s ladder system to climb the structure.

While the lawsuit states there were no legible warning signs letting people know of the tower’s dangers, Reed said Colon’s own words at trial may have hurt his case.

“The argument at trial was that [Colon] was in such a rush to get to the top of the tower to look at deer that a sign would not have mattered,” Reed said. “His quote was: ‘I wasn’t focused on my decision-making process.’”

Another point of contention was Colon’s claim that an electrical shock made him fall. Reed said Colon could not clearly remember why he fell.

“Was it power coming from the UI system that impacted him and caused him to fall? The jury found it did not,” Reed said. “The jury found there was no direct or indirect cause related to the UI transmission system.”

In closing arguments to the nine-person jury, Reed said, “There is no one in the courtroom who does not want what is best for the plaintiff and his wife. We would not be human beings if we did not have empathy or sympathy. But, in a court of law, you have to decide based on facts and law.”

The jury deliberated for seven hours over two days before reaching a defense verdict.

The case will be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District, according to Brian Rush, a partner with Woodlief & Rush in Tampa, Florida, who represented Colon.

Rush said Friday that U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Meyer “effectively eliminated Connecticut’s ‘constant intrusion’ doctrine, especially in regard to railroad trespass injuries.” “It is a Connecticut rule of law which protects trespassers from hidden dangers when there has been constant trespass by the public,” said Rush, who added that “in this case there was clearly graffiti and intrusion on the ground level.”

Meyer ruled that there could only be intrusion 40 feet up in the air, and not at ground level.

“It’s impossible to prove intrusion that far up in the air,” Rush said.

Assisting Reed in the case was James Ringold, an associate with Loughlin Fitzgerald.

Beck Fineman and Robert Hickey, partners with Ryan Ryan Deluca in Stamford, represented Metro-North. Neither was available for comment Friday.

Besides Rush, Colon was represented by John Jowdy, a partner with John Jowdy in Danbury.