Bloomberg Law
March 6, 2023, 5:33 PMUpdated: March 6, 2023, 7:47 PM

Union Pacific Hit With $557 Million Train Collision Verdict (1)

Janet Miranda
Janet Miranda

A Texas state jury found that Union Pacific owes $557 million in damages to a woman who suffered brain damage and amputations following a collision with one of its trains.

A jury held that Union Pacific was 80% responsible for the accident, holding plaintiff Mary Johnson 20% responsible. The jury awarded $500 million in punitive damages and $57 million in compensatory damages.

Johnson was struck by a Union Pacific train on March 5, 2016. Union Pacific’s engineer could have stopped the train before striking Johnson if he had followed a regulation that makes locomotives bright enough to illuminate the tracks 800 feet ahead, as required by federal law, according to the lawsuit filed in Harris County 129th District Court.

The Houston verdict, issued Friday, was made only one week after a Union Pacific train derailed in Nebraska and at a time when the rail sector is coming under more scrutiny following the hazardous event in East Palestine, Ohio.

Harris County lead Texas with 51 total incidents, including 5 deaths the year the incident occurred, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. Union Pacific admitted that was a “concern” during trial, Kyle Findley of Arnold & Itkin LLP, who represents Johnson told Bloomberg Law.

Johnson also sued a local bar, alleging that they had over-served her, which led her to sit on the nearby railroad tracks, according to court filings. The bar wasn’t included in the verdict.

A spokesperson from Union Pacific said that they were “deeply discouraged” by the jury’s verdict and that they will appeal. The spokesperson said that the night of the collision, the crossing’s lights, gates and bells were activated.

“The train crew then activated the emergency brakes when the person seated on the tracks in the middle of the night did not move,” Union Pacific’s spokesperson said. “On average it can take a train up to a mile to stop and by the time train crew spot someone on the tracks, it is often too late.”

As a result of the collision, Johnson suffered “severe and debilitating injuries” including the amputation of her leg, multiple fingers, and a severe brain injury.

Following the accident, Johnson was transported to the hospital, where it was found that her alcohol blood concerntration was 0.201%, court filings said.

In regards to the damages, jurors concluded that Union Pacific owes Johnson $1.9 million in past medical expenses, $7.6 million in future medical expenses, $4 million in past physical pain, and $7 million in future physical pain.

“We feel good about what the jury had to say it’s been seven years of them denying responsibility,” Findley said. “Hopefully this award does something to make changes.”

The jurors also awarded a total of $9 million for past and future mental anguish, a combined $15.5 million for past and future physical impairment, and a total of $12 million for past and future disfigurement. Johnson was awarded $106,000 in loss of earning capacity.

“Railroad companies like Union Pacific have enjoyed the privilege of using tracks that run through the heart of our cities, communities, and neighborhoods for years, and with that privilege comes a responsibility to operate safely,” Findley said.

Union Pacific was represented by Brown, Proctor & Howell, LLP.

The case is Johnson v. Union Pacific, Tex. Dist. Ct., No. 2016-80991, 3/3/23.

(Updates with comment from a Union Pacific spokesperson, more details on the night of the collision, and clarifies the total number of Harris County incidents.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Janet Miranda in Houston at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew Childers at