Anne Johnson in Law360: Texas Driller Says $3M Barnett Shale Verdict Unsupported


A Texas driller found liable for $3 million after a family claimed they’d been sickened by fumes from natural gas wells near their Barnett Shale property told a state appeals court Wednesday there’s no evidence its drilling activity caused the family’s injuries.

In oral argument, Aruba Petroleum Inc. told the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas the Parr family had brought a toxic tort case alleging that they were sickened by air pollution and that Aruba intentionally caused a permanent nuisance to their property. Aruba said the family didn’t introduce expert testimony or other evidence supporting its claim of toxic exposure, didn’t have a doctor testify that their injuries were caused by the alleged pollutants and couldn’t prove their property was irreparably damaged by nearby drilling.

The Parr family argued their case rests on a nuisance theory and is not a toxic tort case, meaning they had a lower evidentiary burden. They say the trial record is “replete” with evidence they could not use their property and had to leave their home after nearby drilling left them with nosebleeds, rashes, headaches and other problems they’d never faced before the drilling began.

Arguing for Aruba, Anne Johnson of Haynes and Boone, LLP said the nature of the case had been a moving target from the time it was filed through summary judgment and even during the trial, but that ultimately, the plaintiffs’ arguments they were sickened by toxic air make it a toxic tort case.

“If this judgment is not reversed on causation, it will create a huge gap in Texas tort law,” Johnson said.

Johnson said if the Parrs’ verdict is upheld, they will have created a road map for other claimants to use nuisance to get around the strict evidentiary standard set in the landmark Texas case Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals v. Havner ...

Aruba is represented by Johnson, Nina Cortell, Michael Mazzone and Christina Crozier of Haynes and Boone, LLP and Ben Barron of Ben K. Barron PC.

Excerpted from Law360. To read the full article, please click here (subscription required).

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