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$4.2 Million Dollar Verdict Obtained in Oil and Gas Water Pollution Case

March 10, 2016 – A $4.24 million Verdict was obtained on behalf of two Pennsylvania families for the contamination of their drinking water by an oil and gas drilling company.  The case was heard in Federal Court in Scranton, Pennsylvania in the courtroom of District Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson of the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

The breakdown of the award was as follows:  $1.3 million each for the inconvenience and discomfort of Nolen Scott Ely and Monica Marta-Ely, as well as $50,000 for each of their three children.  Plaintiff property owners Raymond and Vickie Hubert were awarded $720,000 each for their discomfort and their adult daughter was awarded $50,000.  The plaintiffs were represented by Leslie Lewis and Jeremy A. Mercer.

It was alleged in court filings that commencing in 2008, Defendants in their natural gas exploration activities in Dimock, Pennsylvania negligently contaminated Plaintiffs’ property, drinking well and water supply.  The water remains contaminated despite measures taken to eradicate the toxins in the water. Defense counsel made claims that the water contamination complaints predated the drilling operations in that location.  He further alleged that the drinking water was safe for consumption.

Insurance Company’s Standard Defense:

“All of your damage was pre-existing or you caused it yourself.”

In cases involving personal injury and property damage, the insurance companies and the insurance company lawyers defending the cases invariably argue that all of the plaintiffs’ damage was “pre-existing” or that the plaintiffs’ themselves are responsible for the damage.  In this case, the gas company pursued the same strategy.

The insurance companies and their attorneys are usually very savvy and they understand the subconscious psychological phenomenon of “defensive attribution” employed by most jurors. “Defensive attribution” causes most of us to think to ourselves, “that would not have happened to me because I would not have done what the plaintiffs did.” This causes jurors to focus on the plaintiffs conduct instead of focusing on the defendants conduct. The most common example is the criminal defense lawyer talking about a woman’s attire in a rape case in hopes that women on the jury will subconsciously think, “that would not have happened to me because I would not have dressed like that and put myself in that situation.” Insurance attorneys are usually very good at taking the focus away from the wrongdoer and putting the focus on the victim. Victims need an attorney that knows how to turn this around on them.

The Attorney Matters

If victims hire an experienced attorney like Chris Heavens, the chances of going to court go down and the chances of a settlement go up. This is because experienced attorneys understand the tricks of insurance companies and their attorneys. Good plaintiff attorneys are better equipped to overcome “pre-existing condition” defenses and “defensive attribution” arguments to make it clear to the insurance company that their exposure to a significant verdict in court is not worth their risk. Insurance companies also investigate the trial record of opposing attorneys. An attorney who has successfully tried many cases to jury verdict is more of a threat than an attorney who advertises on TV, but settles numerous cases at low value.

Chris Heavens has been practicing law since 1991. He began his career working in a corporate defense law firm, defending people and corporations in personal injury, wrongful death and property damage cases. He obtained many “defense verdicts” against unprepared or inexperienced plaintiff attorneys. He learned firsthand how the attorney people choose could make a huge difference. Mr. Heavens also learned how insurance companies evaluate cases because he spent 10 years defending their policyholders in court. He knows what makes them pay a lot of money and what causes them to offer less money. 

Mr. Heavens now represents victims against wrongdoers and their insurance companies. He is AV rated by Martindale Hubbell, which it the most credible attorney rating system in the United States. Please feel free to call Mr. Heavens at 484-467-8254