How a Judge Scrapped Pennsylvania Families’ $4.24M Water Pollution Verdict in Gas Drilling Lawsuit
How a Judge Scrapped Pennsylvania Families’ $4.24M Water Pollution Verdict in Gas Drilling Lawsuit.
In a 58 page ruling, Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson discarded the jury’s verdict in Ely v. Cabot and ordered a new trial, extending the legal battle over one of the highest-profile and longest-running fracking-related water contamination cases in the country.
Nonetheless, Judge Carlson declined to throw out the lawsuit entirely, ordering Cabot to re-start settlement talks with the Ely and Hubert families.
John-Mark Stensvaag, an environmental law professor at the University of Iowa, said that orders to re-try cases “are not as rare as one might think.” “This does not mean that the plaintiffs have no case,” he added, “it only means that, in [Judge Carlson’s] opinion, they have not presented a case justifying the jury’s verdict and should be given a second opportunity to present an adequate case.” The Ely family leaves the federal courthouse on the first day of trial in 2016. Credit: Laura Evangelisto © 2016 Carter Road Water Contamination There’s little question that something is very wrong with the water on Carter Road, despite lingering questions in the legal battles centering around that contaminated water.
In 2010, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection concluded that Cabot’s drilling operations had contaminated the drinking water supplies of 19 homes in Dimock and reached an agreement with Cabot requiring the company to pay out $4.6 million over the harm to the families’ wells.
That presentation was barred from being entered into evidence by Judge Carlson, despite the plaintiffs’ request to present it to the jury.
Evidence Catch-22 An underlying theme of the case for the plaintiffs’ attorney Lewis and her clients has centered around a struggle over the evidence the plaintiffs could present to the jury, which has come back to haunt them with the recent ruling by Judge Carlson.
Part of the problem is that many of the wells near Carter Road have virtually identical names and it’s not clear that the plaintiffs intended their stipulation to cover all of the “Gesford” wells.
State and federal records also show that Cabot was cited for violating state environmental laws at the Gesford 3 well on June 3, 2008 — a time when Judge Carlson’s order insists that Gesford 3 had not yet been drilled.
Ely, the lead plaintiff at the trial, also said he was harassed by McAleer in a sworn testimony exhibited as part of the same June 2016 court filing submitted to the court by Lewis and Radow.