For many residents of Carter Road in Dimock, Pennsylvania, it’s been nearly a decade since their lives were turned upside down by the arrival of Cabot Oil and Gas, a company whose Marcellus Shale hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) wells were plagued by a series of spills and other problems linked to the area’s contamination of drinking water supplies.
With a new federal court ruling handed down late last Friday, a judge unwound a unanimous eight-person jury which had ordered Cabot to pay a total of $4.24 millionover the contamination of two of those families’ drinking water wells. 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.
In his order, Judge Carlson chastised the plaintiff’s lawyers for “repeatedly inviting the jury to engage in unwarranted speculation” and wrote that, in his personal estimation, the plaintiffs had not presented enough evidence to warrant the jury’s $4.24 million in damages. The original complaint for the case was filed in November 2009.
Nonetheless, Judge Carlson declined to throw out the lawsuit entirely, ordering Cabot to re-start settlement talks with the Ely and Hubert families. If those talks fail, the trial process will begin anew, extending the already years-long legal battle into months or even years to come.
“The judge heard the same case that the jury heard and the jury was unanimous,” Nolan Scott Ely, the lead plaintiff in the case, said in a statement. “How can he take it upon himself to set aside their verdict? It’s outrageous.”
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