Two families from Dimock, Pennsylvania were vindicated after a nearly seven-year legal battle resulted in a favorable jury verdict in early March of 2016. The jury awarded the families $4.24 million in damages for water contamination resulting from faulty wells drilled by Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation (“Cabot”), based out of Houston, Texas. The families received compensation “for the damage to property and the personal nuisance that the water contamination had caused.” The jury awarded Nolen Scott Ely and Monica Marta-Ely $1.3 million a piece. In addition, their three children were awarded $150,000 each. The other family involved in the lawsuit, Ray and Victoria Hubert, were each awarded $720,000 and their child was awarded $50,000.
The trouble began back in 2008 for residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania. “[C]loudy, foamy, and discolored” water began coming out of the resident’s faucets. The water “smelled and tasted foul.” It made the homeowners sick with symptoms such as “vomiting, dizziness and skin rashes.” The state investigated the matter and found that “Cabot had allowed gas to escape into the region’s groundwater supplies, contaminating at least 18 residential wells.” 44 residents of Dimock filed a lawsuit in federal court against Cabot. The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit settled with Dimock in 2012. The remaining two plaintiffs, the Elys and the Huberts, went to trial in February of 2016. They claimed that two of the company’s natural gas wells were defective and leaked, causing their water to become contaminated with methane. They claimed the company had been in a “rush to drill the wells to cash in on the natural gas boom in Susquehanna County in 2009.” Cabot disputed this allegation, asserting that the methane in the water was naturally occurring.
The other plaintiffs in the case who settled did so in 2012. The terms of the settlement are confidential. A local news station, Newswatch 16, interviewed some of the residents who chose to settle the case. Two residents, Ronald Carter and Diana Horn, both state that they still cannot drink the water. They, along with the other residents on Carter Road in Dimock, must drive 20 minutes to Montrose to get water from a well there. The water is good enough to do other things such as shower and wash dishes, according to Horn. In a March 2012 article, Newswatch 16 reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) had stated the drinking water met federal standards.
Shortly after the verdict was announced, Cabot said that it planned to appeal the verdict, stating “the jury’s verdict ‘disregards overwhelming scientific and factual evidence’ that it conducted itself properly in the small village of Dimock.”
Lawsuits involving things like groundwater contamination fall under the category of toxic torts. A toxic tort is defined as “[a] civil wrong arising from exposure to a toxic substance, such as asbestos, radiation, or hazardous waste.” Black’s Law Dictionary 1627 (9th ed. 2009). In the above case, the toxic substance was methane. Toxic torts can cause lasting damage to people and property, as the unfortunate residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania have learned.
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