UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
June 30, 1977
George OKVAT, Plaintiff,
PENN CENTRAL TRANSPORTATION COMPANY, Defendant & Third-Party Plaintiff, v. ASHLAND OIL CORP., Third-Party Defendant
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ELFVIN
MEMORANDUM and ORDER
ELFVIN, District Judge.
Pursuant to the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 51 et seq., plaintiff sued his former employer, the Penn Central Transportation Company ("Penn Central"), for injuries sustained during the course of his employment on land owned by the Ashland Oil and Refining Company, Inc. ("Ashland"). The injury was sustained while plaintiff was in the process of "throwing" a switch on a side track on Ashland's property in the process of Penn Central's moving its cars onto the side track to serve Ashland's requirements. The switch malfunctioned and plaintiff's hand was injured. Penn Central sought indemnity or contribution from Ashland based upon an agreement previously entered into by them. After a trial on the merits, the jury decided the respective liabilities of each party by returning specific answers to five interrogatories.
The parties then settled the issue of damages to be awarded plaintiff for his injuries and consented to a judgment of $4,500. Penn Central has satisfied this judgment. The sole question now before me is the proper allocation of damages between Penn Central and Ashland according to the indemnity clause of their side track agreement consistent with the findings of the jury.
Under the side track agreement, if plaintiff's injuries were caused by the sole negligence of Penn Central, its agents or employees, Penn Central would assume full responsibility and could not seek indemnity or contribution from Ashland. If such injuries were caused by the sole negligence of Ashland, its agents or employees, Penn Central would be entitled to full and complete indemnity by Ashland. Furthermore, the agreement provided that, if the concurring negligence of both Penn Central and Ashland and/or their respective agents or employees contributed to and jointly caused plaintiff's injuries, they would share equally all losses, damages, claims and judgments regardless of the percentage of negligence attributable to each.
Based upon written interrogatories, the jury found that Penn Central, its employees and agents were negligent, that Ashland, its employees and agents were negligent and that plaintiff, a Penn Central employee, was contributorily negligent. They assigned 30% of the total negligence to plaintiff and 70% of the total negligence to Ashland. Because the jury found Penn Central negligent and also specifically assigned 100% of the total negligence to plaintiff and Ashland, they premised Penn Central's liability solely upon the acts or omissions of its agent, Ashland. This finding was in accordance with applicable principles of law and one that could be properly made based upon the evidence adduced at trial. Therefore, the jury's verdict was not in any way inconsistent or erroneous as a matter of law.
The side track agreement between Penn Central and Ashland is controlling on the question of whether Penn Central can recover in whole or in part from Ashland. Ratigan v. New York Central Railroad Co., 291 F.2d 548 (2d Cir. 1961), cert. den. sub nom. New York Central Railroad Company v. Interstate Commodities, Inc., 368 U.S. 891, 82 S. Ct. 144, 7 L. Ed. 2d 89 (1961); Emonz v. New York, N.H. & H.R. Co., 42 Misc.2d 957, 249 N.Y.S.2d 506 (S. Ct. Orange Co. 1964), aff'd, 24 A.D.2d 555, 260 N.Y.S.2d 611 (2d Dept. 1965). Pursuant to the indemnity provision of this agreement, Penn Central and Ashland agreed to share equally all judgments incurred as a result of plaintiff's injuries if the same were caused by their joint or concurring negligence.
It is significant that this provision, drafted by Penn Central, explicitly provided that the negligence of the parties' respective agents or employees was to be considered in determining whether either of them had committed any acts or omissions which would trigger the obligation to bear equally all losses, damages, claims and judgments. The term "employee" was not limited or restricted by the parties to exclude an injured employee who instituted a negligence action and who was found to have been contributorily negligent. Thus, it appears that the parties intended to include the negligence of all railroad employees, in applying this provision, including one who was injured and brought suit. Otherwise, the liability of each party would differ based upon the mere happenstance that the employee of the railroad whose negligence was a contributing cause of the accident was the injured plaintiff and not another. This inconsistency was not intended by the parties. The provision is a blanket one which does not contain any exceptions with respect to which railroad employee's acts or omissions may be considered.
In its answers to the interrogatories, the jury specifically found that plaintiff was negligent.
Plaintiff then was an employee of Penn Central. The jury also found that Ashland was negligent.
Therefore, according to the explicit terms of the side track agreement, Penn Central and Ashland (although unequally negligent) must bear equally the judgment in favor of plaintiff.
In view of the foregoing, it is
ORDERED that the judgment satisfied by Penn Central must be shared equally by both Penn Central and Ashland; and it is further
ORDERED that Ashland is liable to Penn Central in the amount of $ 2,250.