Judge Tosses $4.2M Verdict Against Gas Driller for Water Pollution
Weak evidence and frequent out-of-bounds statements by plaintiffs’ counsel were cited by a federal judge in Pennsylvania in vacating a more than $4.2 million verdict awarded to two families against a natural gas company that they alleged negligently polluted their water supply.
Claims permitted at trial focused narrowly on negligence and private nuisance causes of action, but, according to Carlson, the attorney who tried the case made repeated comments in front of the jury that went against court orders that had previously tailored the claims.
"The court finds that, although counsel may have been seeking to deliver zealous advocacy on behalf of her clients she has known for years regarding a matter that holds deep meaning for her personally, the aggregation of the instances of inappropriate conduct throughout the trial cannot be allowed to stand where the court finds it very likely that they influenced the jury’s verdict in this case," Carlson said.
In an emailed statement to the press, New York attorney Leslie L. Lewis, who represented the plaintiffs, said the decision did not fully reflect what occurred in the courtroom over the course of the 10-day trial.
"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," Lewis said.
"Plaintiffs reject the court’s conclusion that Cabot was robbed of a fair trial or that the unanimous, eight-person jury verdict was excessive."
Jeremy Mercer of Blank Rome, who represented Cabot Oil & Gas, did not return a call seeking comment.
However, a major hurdle in the case arose when the plaintiffs stipulated that problems with the water supply began before the drilling activities started.
According to Carlson, this created a "cause and effect" problem that 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."
Carlson said that, because of the repeated defense objections and admonitions by the court, the jury may have come under the impression that it wasn’t getting the full story regarding the claims and that some facts were being hidden from them.