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Kin of NYC Transit worker killed by 3rd rail sue city

The family of an East Rockaway man who was electrocuted while supervising track work at a Queens subway station is bringing a $50-million wrongful-death suit against the City of New York, claiming it was "grossly negligent" in allowing workers to repair subway tracks under unsafe conditions.

The suit claims that James Knell, 45, a veteran NYC Transit supervisor, was killed because of negligence that included removal of a protective cover on the high-voltage third rail; no posting of signs warning workers of exposed rail, as required by law; lack of sufficient lighting; and wet weather conditions.

All of those safety concerns were raised in a preliminary investigation by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority following Knell's death in the early-morning hours of April 26, attorney Sanford Rubenstein said at a news conference Friday at his downtown Brooklyn office.

"This was in fact a wrongful death," said Rubenstein, who is representing Knell's widow, Jacqueline Knell, and the family. "It never should have happened."

Rubenstein said he filed suit against the city because "the tracks were unsafe and the city owns the tracks." Because Knell, as a NYC Transit employee, was entitled to workers' compensation, Rubenstein said he is precluded under workers' compensation law from suing the transit agency.

"What I am experiencing can't be put into words," a tearful Jacqueline Knell said. "He was a great man, and this can't happen to anybody else again."

Knell was a transit employee for 13 years, nine of them as a supervisor. He was supervising a crew replacing tracks as part of a rehabilitation project at and around several Rockaway stations. He was electrocuted when he touched the 600-volt rail on the elevated tracks at the Beach 90th Street station in Rockaway.

The preliminary investigation by the MTA's Office of System Safety raised several other safety concerns, including communication problems. Among its findings, released in May, was that Knell was carrying a 90-pound bucket of spikes when he appears to have lost his balance.

The city office of the state Department of Labor's Division of Safety and Health is conducting its own probe, a spokesman said.

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