News & Reviews News Wire Union Pacific hit with $557 million verdict in Texas collision case

Union Pacific hit with $557 million verdict in Texas collision case

By Trains Staff | March 7, 2023

| Last updated on February 5, 2024

Jury’s award includes $500 million in punitive damages for woman who was reportedly sitting on tracks

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Union Pacific logo without sloganHOUSTON — A Texas jury has awarded a woman $557 million in damages after she was struck by a Union Pacific train and suffered major injuries while the woman was reportedly sitting on railroad tracks in downtown Houston in March 2016.

The verdict was handed down Friday, March 3, in Harris County 129th District Court.

The plaintiff in the case, Mary Johnson, sued the railroad and a local bar after she was struck by a UP train on March 5, 2016. She suffered a severe brain injury, amputation of a leg, and other injuries which have required extensive, ongoing medical treatment, according to her lawsuit.

Johnson’s suit claimed UP was negligent because the train should have been able to stop, had its headlight been bright enough to illuminate her on the tracks from 800 feet away, as required by federal law; for other failures of training and following safety procedure; and for other acts including “failing to engage the emergency stop even after it was recognized Ms. Johnson was a person on the tracks who was not moving.”

The bar was sued for negligence in the form of overserving Johnson prior to the incident.

Attorneys representing Johnson presented evidence showing there were 66 rail-related deaths and 400 other rail casualties in Texas in 2016; Harris County, which includes Houston, had the most, including five deaths and 51 non-fatal incidents. The jury ultimately determined that Union Pacific was 80% responsible and Johnson was 20% responsible for the collision. It awarded $500 million in punitive damages and $57 million in compensatory damages. The verdict did not address the bar’s role.

A Union Pacific representative told Bloomberg Law that the railroad was “deeply discouraged” by the verdict and will appeal. The representative said that the collision occurred at a crossing where the bells, gates, and lights were working, and that the train crew applied its brakes when “the person seated on the tracks in the middle of the night did not move. On average, it can take a train up to a mile to stop, and by the time the train crew spots someone on the tracks, it is often too late.”

30 thoughts on “Union Pacific hit with $557 million verdict in Texas collision case

  1. This makes me utterly sick to my stomach. Talk about get rich quick. I’m sorry that she got hurt and suffered extensive injuries but that doesn’t take away the fact that it was her fault.

  2. I would be greatly surprised if this stood up on appeal. If the trial judge does not set it aside , then the appeals court should.
    In the interim the lawyers making money are the corporate defense lawyers who bill by the hour.

  3. The verdict in this case makes me sick to be an American citizen. The American system of “justice” excludes jurors who would make a reasonable judgment. If on the jury panel, I’d have told the court that I have prejudged (which in my mind is reasonable) and would have been excluded.

    Far from being due money, this woman should have been sued for every penny she ever saw, and more.

    UPRR was zero percent responsible. The drunken woman was 100% responsible and owes damages to the railroad.

  4. So a counter suite in my opinion would be a better idea. She has admitted guilt in trespassing, sue for damages caused by the trespassing. That would be the charge laid against U.P.

  5. It will go back and forth with the appeals process until there is a settlement for a lower number of which the firm gets a cut plus billable hours. That’s the accepted process these days.

  6. In the municipal world, this is what we called “Winning the Lottery.” Do something stupid and get paid.

    This is reminiscent of the lady who put boiling hot cup of coffee between her legs and got scalded. She won the lotto for scalding her nether regions.

    1. The fact that it was “boiling hot” was the actual problem. McDonald’s was acting irresponsibly and verged on active malice towards customers. It was a case that I completely changed my mind on when I learned of the facts involved.

  7. It can also be made worse by 200 car trains that can not stop even at slow speed. Railroads have also fought updating car braking because of cost. They seem to be managed as if it were a century ago

    1. Here’s what all railfans and rail industry watchers are told: stay off the tracks.

      Michael, it doesn’t matter if the train can stop in 100 feet or 100 miles. You aren’t supposed to be on the track. Period. End of sentence.

    2. “Railroads have also fought updating car braking because of cost.” I thought that electric actuated air braking was a good idea. I always wondered if the 600VDC traction motor voltage could somehow be tapped for air brake triggered electric solenoids, in order to overcome lengthy train, electric cable line losses???

  8. *Slightly insane laughter* “Is this some kind of twisted joke?!”
    -Dimitri, Fire Emblem Three Houses

  9. Has anyone interviewed the jury to find out why they came up with what one the face of it seems a crazy verdict? Did the UP’s lawyers screw up?

    1. Maynard I don’t think UP lawyers screwed up. But the jury did! All the jury sees is someone that is badly hurt an a big corporation that has a lot of money. Lets give her a big chunk of it. An don’t go after the bar for giving her to many drinks. He’s the little guy with a small business and not much money. And don’t forget this is in Texas. Some strange things happen down there.

  10. I would comment unbelievable, but not anymore. The legal system in this country is broken. To many lawyers with nothing better to do than sue for stupid people. What a disgrace.

  11. We have had to many bad verdicts against railroads for traffic and pedestrian cases in Texas. If a child is injured in a crossing accident even though the mother or dad is the negligent one juries put most of blame on the railroads even though a parent runs through flashing lights and in some cases gates. It may be because railroads have always been difficult to deal with on property damage, etc. Of course the “free shot” plaintiffs have in Texas prompts attorneys to file suits that they know would never be filed otherwise. Until “loser pays” is put in Texas law, the suits and bad verdicts will continue.

  12. The American legal system is a joke! UP has to appeal this all the way to the SCOTUS. Nothing Good even came out of Texas!

  13. So the bar over servers you. You sit on the railroad tracks, get hit by a train an it’s the railroads fault? Yea Right!

  14. How about this novel idea: people should take responsibility for their own actions and stop trying to blame others for the consequences.

    1. Would put a lot of ambulance-chasing shyster lawyers out of business. I **like** it!

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