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$3-M Fracking Verdict May Open Door For More Lawsuits

(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Jason Allen
Jason came to North Texas after working as a reporter for four y...
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WISE COUNTY (CBSFDW.COM) - A fracking related lawsuit has led to a multi-million dollar award for a Wise County family. If it’s not the first, oil and gas attorneys said it may be one of the biggest such awards, and would likely open the door to more health-based lawsuits against the industry.

In a five to one decision Wednesday, a Dallas County jury found that Aruba Petroleum intentionally created a private nuisance on Bob and Lisa Parr’s land. The jury awarded money for past and future pain and suffering, mental anguish and loss of property value. The verdict came nearly six years after the Parr family said they first started experiencing health problems on their ranch.

In a statement, Aruba said the verdict was counter to the evidence attorneys presented. A spokesman said the company has a number of arguments to make in the trial court, as to why a judgment should still be made in its favor. The company intends to appeal if the judgment scheduled for next month does not go in the companies favor.

At their home Wednesday, Lisa Parr said the potential impact of the victory was still sinking in.

“This small little Texas family just went up against the biggest industry in probably the world,” she said. “And we won. And we’re ecstatic.”

The verdict came nearly six years after the Parrs said they first started experiencing health problems on their ranch. They described rashes, headaches, nosebleeds and the presence of chemicals in their blood, all similar symptoms to what other critics of the industry have described in other locations.

The verdict doesn’t necessarily mark a turning point for the energy industry in Texas, but it may be the beginning of a new debate, according to Mark Oliver, an attorney who has represented landowners and operators in oil and gas matters. While a jury verdict is unusual, a win on appeal would be a big deal he said, and a victory at the state supreme court level would be a landmark, if the case advances that far.

Gabriel Eckstein, with the Texas A&M School of Law and an attorney with Sullivan and Worcester, said plaintiffs and their attorneys will see the verdict as an opportunity now to seek their own claims.

“When people see a lawsuit like this succeed, especially at the trial level, you’re going to have more copycat lawsuits,” he said.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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