$557M awarded by Houston jury to woman left disfigured after being struck by Union Pacific train in 2016

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HOUSTON – A woman who was left severely injured and disfigured after being struck by a train in downtown Houston in 2016 has been awarded more than $500 million by a jury.

Mary Johnson lost limbs and had to be treated for severe brain injuries following the tragic incident, which occurred on March 5, 2016.

A lawsuit filed on Johnson’s behalf stated that “Union Pacific’s engineer and conductor could have stopped the train before striking the plaintiff if the lights on the locomotive were bright enough to illuminate [the] plaintiff on the tracks 800 feet ahead as is required by federal law.”

Johnson’s attorney, Kyle Findley of Arnold & Itkin Law Firm, argued that train operators failed to take the safe course in this case when there was doubt and uncertainty about whether Johnson was a person on the tracks and whether Johnson was going to move on the tracks.”

Evidence showcased at the trial proved that the operators of the train did not apply brakes until they were within 50 feet of Johnson.

Jurors found Union Pacific to be 80% liable for the incident and awarded Johnson $500 million in punitive damages.

The verdict reached on March 3 came just a week after a high-profile Union Pacific derailment took place in Nebraska, and at a time when the rail industry is under scrutiny following the East Palestine, Ohio toxic incident.

“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. This $557 million verdict shows Union Pacific and other rail operators are ultimately liable for the costs associated with preventable disasters,” Johnson’s attorneys stated.

Representatives from Union Pacific sent the following statement to KPRC 2:

“Union Pacific is deeply discouraged by the jury’s verdict. The crossing’s lights, gates, and bells were activated, and the crew blew the horn to herald the train’s approach. The train crew activated the emergency brakes when they discerned an individual SEATED on the tracks in the middle of the night. 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.

“Union Pacific will appeal the verdict, including the punitive damage award. Under Texas law, total punitive damages that can be awarded in this case is less than $20 million.

“We also want to remind everyone train tracks are private property and sitting, standing, or walking on or near the tracks is dangerous.”

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About the Author:

Moriah Ballard joined the KPRC 2 digital team in the fall of 2021. Prior to becoming a digital content producer in Southeast Texas and a Houstonian, Moriah was an award-winning radio host in her hometown of Lorain, Ohio and previously worked as a producer/content creator in Cleveland. Her faith, family, and community are her top passions.