On March 31, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania overturned a $4.24 million verdict related to alleged contamination from unconventional development activities. The Scranton, Pennsylvania jury found in favor of nine plaintiffs who claim that an operator’s drilling activities at two gas wells in Susquehanna County was negligent and caused compensable nuisance injuries by interfering with and damaging access to well water.
Specifically, the Court found that “the weaknesses in the plaintiffs’ case and proof, coupled with serious and troubling irregularities in the testimony and presentation of the plaintiffs’ case – including repeated and regrettable missteps by counsel in the jury’s presence – combined so thoroughly to undermine faith in the jury’s verdict that it must be vacated and a new trial ordered. Moreover, the jury’s award of more than $4 million in damages for private nuisance bore no discernable relationship to the evidence, which was at best limited; and even were the Court to find that the jury’s verdict of liability should stand, the Court can perceive no way in which the jury’s damages award could withstand even passing scrutiny regardless of the applicable standard of review.”
The Court found that the evidence demonstrated “convincingly” that problems with the plaintiffs’ water supply began prior to the development of the wells at issue. “The plaintiffs all acknowledged that they experienced problems with the water in their wells at least a month before Cabot started to drill on the Gesford pads. This manifest problem of ‘cause and effect’ was never adequately explained by the plaintiffs, who time and again either evaded this issue, attempted to impeach their own stipulation, or endeavored to provide some alternative explanation for their own prior representations.”