Two Texas Juries Award Damages to Homeowners in Fracking Cases

On May 23, 2014, a Texas jury awarded a Tarrant County couple $20,000 in damages after finding that natural gas drilling activities near their property constituted a temporary private nuisance.  The case, Crowder et al. v. Chesapeake Operating, Inc., was initially filed in November 2011 and claimed that the fumes, noise, dust, and truck traffic generated by the drilling site substantially interfered with the plaintiffs’ ability to enjoy their property.  The verdict came despite the fact that the Crowders had entered into a drilling lease with Chesapeake in 2007 for the five acre parcel where the wells responsible for the nuisance were located.  The jury denied the plaintiffs’ request for more than $80,000 in future damages, determining, instead, that the nuisance was temporary and not permanent.

The Crowder verdict follows an April 22, 2014 verdict in Parr v. Aruba Petroleum, Inc. (Dallas County) which awarded the plaintiffs almost $3 million in property and medical damages.  The Parrs’ original complaint alleged causes of action for (1) assault – infliction of bodily injury; (2) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (3) negligence; (4) gross negligence; (5) negligence per se; (6) private nuisance; (7) trespass and subsurface trespass to real property; and (8) strict liability for abnormally dangerous activity.  Only the claim for private nuisance was submitted to the jury.  That claim alleged Aruba Petroleum’s interference with and invasion of plaintiffs’ property by causing releases, spills, emissions and discharges of hazardous gases, chemicals and industrial/hazardous wastes, which migrated to the Parr’s property through the air.  The nuisance claim also alleged that Aruba Petroleum caused offensive noises, offensive odors and smells, offensive sights and light pollution, as well as offensive and abnormal traffic and offensive disturbances in the natural environment.

Aruba Petroleum has stated its intention to challenge the verdict and appeal it if judgment is entered.

Laura Patterson Hoffman focuses her practice in the areas of environmental and regulatory law, energy, tort and business litigation. Hoffman regularly assists energy producers with compliance issues and litigation relating to the Clean Water Act and other environmental permitting issues. She has practiced in federal and state courts and before the Kentucky Office of Administrative Hearings. Hoffman has also engaged in extended negotiations with the Kentucky Cabinet for Energy and Environmental Protection and various environmentalist groups. She also has experience in groundwater contamination litigation and contractual disputes.
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