Nuisance Cases Against Texas Energy Companies Find Contrasting Results

It is quite common for oil and gas companies to face nuisance lawsuits, especially those wherein plaintiffs claim that the companies’ operations are harmful to health. For such companies and for people who are concerned about oil and gas operations, it is important to know whether these nuisance suits can succeed.

Two recent cases in Texas have shown contrasting results. One, filed against Marathon Oil EF, LLC and Plains Exploration & Production Co., was dismissed due to lack of evidence. The other, which was against Aruba Petroleum Inc., won a jury verdict despite a similar lack of evidence to back similar claims.

In the first case, Michael and Myra Cerny, landowners in Karnes County, filed a lawsuit in 2013 claiming that oilfield operations by Marathon LLC and Plains Co. caused harm to their health. The landowner couple said they were exposed to the operations’ toxic chemicals, dust, and noise that worsened their pre-existing health conditions and affected their home.

The couple, however, disclaimed that they were seeking personal injury damages. In a personal injury case, the plaintiffs would need to present expert testimony to support that their health claims were linked to the oilfield operations. It was then considered that the Cernys were attempting to circumvent this testimony requirement. Instead, they presented affidavits from other professionals including an air quality expert and a toxicologist.

Even so, the trial court dismissed their case for lack of evidence. The San Antonio Court of Appeals agreed to this decision, noting that toxic tort claims like the Cernys’ have to meet proof requirements and be proven with expert testimony.

But a comparable case in Dallas County had the opposite result. It was filed by the Parr family, who made similar claims against Aruba Petroleum. Like the Cernys, the Parrs disclaimed personal injury damages in an attempt to avoid the need for expert testimony. Despite this lack of testimony, the Dallas jury awarded the Parrs $2.9 million in damages.

These contrasting results seem to put in limbo the situation of energy companies in Texas, as well as the citizens who have complaints about them. Currently, the Parr case is on appeal at the Dallas Court of Appeals, and these concerned parties are likely to watch with interest.