Are there any lessons to be learned from the recent case in which a jury awarded $2.9 million to a family who claimed their health issues were caused by nearby gas wells?

Here is what we know.  In 2001, Bob Parr purchased 40 acres and built a home east of Decatur in Wise County. Lisa Parr and her minor daughter moved in with Parr in 2007; the Parrs were married in 2008. Near their home, Aruba Petroleum, Inc. had drilled and was operating 22 gas wells and Encana Oil & Gas (USA), Inc. had drilled and was operating 42 wells.  Aruba’s 22 wells were within two miles of the Parr’s house, with the closest 791 feet from the house.

The Parrs filed suit in 2011, in Dallas County against Aruba, Encana, and other operators, alleging that production activities caused releases, spills, emissions, and discharges of hazardous gases, chemicals, and wastes that caused them multiple illnesses, devalued their property, and sickened their livestock.  They sought  damages in in the total amount of $66,000,000.  

After the other defendants were dismissed, Aruba asserted that the Parrs could not prove its wells caused them to get sick partly because dozens upon dozens of other companies’ wells dotted the landscape.  Aruba further argued that: 1) the Parrs could not prove diminished air quality at their home following the drilling of its wells; 2) Aruba had fixed its environmental problems immediately and any contaminants were within air quality standards set by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Railroad Commission and would not make anyone sick; 3) Aruba consistently met state and federal standards; and 4) there was no evidence fracking damaged the Parrs.

The jury rendered a verdict on April 8, 2014, in favor of the Parrs:  $275,000 for lost property, $2,400,000 past mental anguish, pain and suffering, and $250,000 for future pain and suffering.  Judgment has not been entered yet and the case goes on and an appeal is sure to follow.

At present, it appears the case was fact-specific and not indicative that future claims against operators will be successful.  Still, the lesson is that once a case gets before a jury and the club is swung, anything can happen: an eagle, par or bogey!  

Lisa Parr, et al. vs. Aruba Petroleum, Inc., et al.; County Court at Law No. 5, Dallas County, Texas; Cause Number: CC-11-01650