”Aruba Petroleum is a reckless natural gas company that makes people sick. Make them pay.”
That’s how attorney Brad Gilde closed his final plea to the jury Monday morning as the two-and-a-half week Parr v. Aruba Petroleum lawsuit went to the jury in a Dallas County court-at-law.
Tuesday afternoon, the jury came back and did just that – sort of.
The six-person jury, after about eight hours of deliberation Monday and Tuesday, returned a verdict at 2:30 p.m. They agreed that Robert and Lisa Parr and their daughter, Emma, had suffered health problems and that their property in eastern Wise County had lost value because Aruba drilled 21 gas wells within a mile-and-a-quarter of their home from 2008 to 2011.
The jury awarded the Parrs $2.925 million – well short of the $9-million-plus Gilde had asked for – and declined to award exemplary damages against the company.
Aruba’s attorneys did not see the lower award as a victory, however.
“We strongly disagree with the verdict,” Aruba attorney Ben Barron said. “We simply don’t think the facts of the case as they came out, and the law as applied to the facts … we just don’t think they did that properly. We will certainly be appealing the judgment.”
Gilde, the Parrs and their legal team were in mild celebration – as much from relief that the long ordeal is over as for the jury’s decision.
“We feel this is a good judgment,” Gilde said. “Certainly, the finding on intentional nuisance, we think is well-supported by the facts. They have suffered damages. The jury saw that.”
Asked if he thought the verdict would send a message to other drillers to improve their practices, Gilde said “absolutely.”
“We feel that this type of activity [drilling in the Barnett Shale] is unique insofar as it’s now operating in close proximity to where people live. Because of that, you have to be careful. You have to know your neighbor, respect your neighbor and conduct your operations appropriately.”
Lisa Parr, who testified extensively during the trial, said she felt the jury “spoke for our community.”
“Ultimately, I wanted this to get out so that families who are having to deal with this – who are sick and don’t know why – they have something they can look at now,” she said.
The jury answered “yes” to the question, “Do you feel Aruba Petroleum intentionally created a private nuisance?” but did not agree that the company’s conduct was “abnormal and out of place in its surroundings.”
They gave the Parrs $2,250,000 for past and future physical pain and another $400,000 for the mental anguish suffered in the past. They awarded zero for future mental anguish and valued the loss of market value of their home at half of what the lawyers asked for.
They did not agree that harm to the family resulted from malice on the part of Aruba and did not award any punitive damages.
The jury’s discussions were lively, often audible in the courtroom, and they sent out several requests for evidence, information and clarification from the judge.
Asked for a comment after the trial, the jury’s elected spokesman declined.
“I’m glad it’s over,” Bob Parr said. “I hope it helps us and anybody in the future. Maybe next time, they’ll answer the phone.”
It will likely be years before the Parrs see any money from the judgment, if indeed they ever do.
“We will appeal the decision as far as we can take it, until they get it right,” Barron said.