Dallas jury awards damages for natural gas drilling nuisance claim

On April 22, 2014, a Dallas jury in a 5 to 1 verdict awarded $2.925 million to a Wise County, Texas family who claimed serious health problems caused by the natural gas wells drilled on neighboring properties by several oil and gas companies. In their Eleventh Amended Petition, the Parr family alleged that “cumulative environmental contamination and polluting events” from the companies’ activities caused diminution of the value their 40-acre property and damages for physical pain and suffering and for mental anguish. They argued that they were forced to evacuate their home because medical tests revealed the presence of natural gas chemicals, compounds, and metals such as ethylbenzene and xylene.

When trial began on April 8th, there was only one oil and gas company remaining as a defendant, which has approximately 22 wells within a two-mile radius of the Parr family’s residence, out of the hundreds of wells in area. Stating that the Parr family could not prove that their illnesses were caused specifically by one of its wells, the company argued that its drilling activities, including hydraulic fracturing, stay within the air quality limits set by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Railroad Commission and that the company operates within industry standards and best practices.

Answering the questions in the court’s charge, the jury found that the company had intentionally created a private nuisance with its activities and awarded $275,000 for loss of market value, $2.0 million for past pain and suffering, $250,000 for future pain and suffering, $400,000 for past mental anguish, and $0 for future mental anguish. The jury did not award exemplary damages, finding no malice and that the conduct was not abnormal nor out of place in its surroundings.

Counsel for the company stated that post-verdict motions challenging the verdict will be filed; and, if the verdict is entered, an appeal is likely. The court has set a final disposition hearing for May 27, 2014 at 9 a.m.

The lawsuit is Parr, et al. v. Aruba Petroleum, Inc., Case No. CC-11-01650-E, in the County Court at Law No. 5, Dallas County, Texas.

This post was written by Barclay Nicholson (barclay.nicholson@nortonrosefulbright.com or 713.651.3662) from Norton Rose Fulbright's Energy Practice Group.