A federal judge in Pennsylvania threw out a jury’s decision to award over $4 million to families that were impacted by fracking. The jury’s decision had been unanimous.
Judge Martin Carlson announced the decision on Friday, stating that the evidence used by the families in the case “was spare, sometimes contradictory, frequently rebutted by other scientific expert testimony, and relied in some measure upon tenuous inferences.”
Judge Carlson continued on, stating the multiple “weaknesses”, which he claims included “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.”
The case was brought against Cabot Oil and Gas Co. by Scott Ely and Monica Marta-Ely and Ray and Victoria Hubert for the company’s fracking practices, which they claim caused methane to enter their home’s water wells. Some may be familiar with the case, as it was the central subject to the 2010 documentary “Gasland.”
One of the plaintiffs, Scott Ely, is shocked: “The judge heard the same case that the jury heard and the jury was unanimous. How can he take it upon himself to set aside their verdict? It’s outrageous.”
The families’ lawyer, Leslie Lewis, stated: “This decision marks another dark chapter for the victims of water contamination from gas drilling operations. Upon a first review of the decision, it appears that the Court made no reference to the evidence and arguments contained in Plaintiffs thoroughly-reasoned and legally-based papers. Plaintiffs reject the Court’s conclusion that Cabot was robbed of a fair trial or that the unanimous, eight-person jury verdict was excessive. Respectfully, this is not so.”
The decision by the judge is rare, especially with a unanimous decision by a jury.
Carlson stopped short of ruling completely in Cabot Oil and Gas Co.’s favor, choosing instead to order a new federal trial. Now the two families will have to go back to court for a case that was originally started back in 2009. Originally there were 40 other plaintiffs, but they have all settled with Cabot Oil out of court.