Thursday, March 10, 2016

Jury awards $4.2 M to two Pa. families in fracking lawsuit

A Pennsylvania jury handed down a $4.2 million verdict in a lawsuit centering on water contamination from negligent shale gas drilling in Dimock, PA, a tiny town that made international headlines for its flammable and toxic drinking water, Sharon Kelly reports today in the DESMOG Blog.

The defendant in the lawsuit, Cabot Oil and Gas Corp., had strenuously denied that it had caused any harm to the plaintiffs or their drinking water. In 2012, the company reached a settlement with roughly 40 other residents along Carter Road in Dimock, but the terms of that settlement were never made public and included a “non-disparagement” clause that prevents those who settled from speaking out about their experiences with Cabot.

The verdict, which was reported by the Associated Press, comes as long-awaited vindication for the Hubert and Ely families, who had refused to settle in part because they wanted their voices heard, they said at a press conference when the trial began in Scranton on February 22.

The lawsuit had stretched on for roughly seven years, and the plaintiffs were at one point forced to represent themselves in court after being unable to find legal counsel following the settlement of the vast majority of the plaintiffs.
The Huberts and the Elys still live on Carter Road, hauling their water by truck – a chore that became far more cumbersome in the winter when hoses often froze and water tanks must be heated, Scott Ely, a former Cabot subcontractor turned whistleblower, had testified.

The Ely family, which owns the land on which the Huberts reside, would receive $2.75 million and the Hubert family $1.49 million, one local television station is reporting. Because the lawsuit had been narrowed dramatically before trial, the plaintiffs were not permitted to pursue Cabot for any harms done to their health, but only for the damage to property and the personal nuisance that the water contamination had caused.

The case has been closely watched by the oil and gas industry, which has often reached secret settlements in claims of drilling and fracking contamination – creating uncertainty about the frequency and extent of accidents and misconduct.

State and federal environmental regulators have cited non-disclosure agreements as a major hurdle preventing a full assessment of the risks related to the shale oil and gas drilling rush.

The lawsuit pitted solo practitioner Leslie Lewis and attorney Elisabeth Radow against a team of litigators and attorneys from Norton Rose Fulbright, a London-based law firm which in 2014 was the seventh highest-grossing law firm in the world.

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