A Jackson County, Missouri jury awarded a $160 million verdict against Union Pacific Railroad and Amtrak in favor of a 34-year-old woman who was severely injured in a railroad crossing accident. The jury rejected Union Pacific’s defense that it had no duty to install gates and warning lights at the crossing, where a fatal collision had occurred just four months earlier.
The jury awarded $40 million in actual damages and $120 million in punitive damages. The verdict assigned 75% of the blame for the accident to Union Pacific, 25% to Amtrak, and none to the driver of the car. The punitive damages were assessed only against Union Pacific.
Attorney Grant L. Davis, who represented the plaintiff along with Thomas C. Jones, said Union Pacific knew the crossing was dangerous but had done nothing to warn motorists. “This is a company with 65,000 employees and annual revenues of $10 billion, but it doesn’t have a single worker whose job it is to see if crossings are dangerous,” Davis said. “The company never took responsibility and showed no remorse. If Union Pacific would take responsibility, crossings would be safer and fewer people would be killed.”
The size of the verdict was a result of the jury’s grasp of the “big picture,” according to Davis. “This is the largest railroad in the country, and it doesn’t even have a single employee whose job it is to figure out which crossings are dangerous,” Davis said. “They say it’s the government’s deal, but that’s just bull. This is a verdict that says, ‘We want you to change the way you do business, to quit denying your duty and quit trying to push it into someone else’s lap.’”
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