Wise County pair wins $3 million jury award in drilling lawsuit

A Wise County couple who sued Plano-based Aruba Petroleum, claiming that natural gas operations near their 40-acre ranch made them sick, have won a $2.9 million award from a Dallas jury.

Plaintiffs Bob and Lisa Parr had sought more than $9 million in the lawsuit, filed in 2011, alleging that Aruba’s drilling operations at one point forced them to move from their Decatur property. In a 5-1 verdict Tuesday, the jury found that the company created a nuisance that substantially interfered with the Parrs’ use of their land.

The jury’s award included $275,000 in damages for lost property value; $2.4 million for past mental anguish, pain and suffering by the couple and their daughter; and $250,000 for future pain and suffering. The Parrs presented medical evidence that the family’s health issues began about the time Aruba drilled the wells in 2008.

According to court records, the Parrs said they “have experienced almost continual sickness, annoyance, discomfort and inconvenience” because of the operations.

It is believed to be one of the few cases filed by landowners claiming harm from Barnett Shale gas operations to have gone to trial. Most are dismissed or settled, attorneys said.

“The facts of the case and the law as applied to those facts do not support the verdict,” Aruba said in a prepared release. “Natural gas development has long been prevalent in Wise County with hundreds of wells drilled and currently operated by dozens of companies. Aruba is just one of those operators.”

Aruba spokesman Fred Stern said that the company “has a number of arguments to be made in the trial court for why a judgment should be entered in its favor” and that talk of an appeal is “premature.”

Aruba has been cited for a number of issues with its wells in Wise County. In 2011, it paid a $35,500 fine to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for emissions violations. The commission took air samples and found “elevated concentrations of volatile organic compounds,” resulting in violations on six occasions at three wells.

In 2011, the company was sued by the attorney general’s office over similar violations. It was also sued by another Wise County couple, Tim and Christine Ruggiero, but that suit was resolved in a confidential settlement, a representative for their attorney said Wednesday.

Fort Worth attorney Kirk Claunch, who has filed a number of so-called nuisance suits against natural gas operators in the Barnett Shale, said he has had only one go to trial.

That case, involving a complaint against Chesapeake Energy over a Wedgwood-area well site, was decided in Chesapeake’s favor when the jury found that the company’s conduct was not “abnormal and out of place in its surroundings.” Claunch said he is considering further action in that case and has a separate lawsuit with similar claims set for trial in May in a Fort Worth court.

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