If you have been hurt—or if a member of your family has been hurt—due to the careless or negligent actions of an energy company or its employees, how are you going to get the recovery you deserve?
It’s a fair and timely question. As the practice of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas extraction—“fracking,” as it’s commonly known—has spread across Pennsylvania, we have heard more and more stories of people being hurt in the process:
- People injured in collisions with energy company trucks under the control of drivers too drowsy or distracted to control their vehicles
- Those whose water supplies have become contaminated by fracking chemicals or natural gas residues
- People whose livestock developed rare cancers, or just sickened and died
- Individuals promised bountiful royalties from gas exploration on their property, who have found the checks dwindling away
- People whose neighborhoods have become almost intolerable due to the stench from gas exploration fields upwind
How can you ever get a fair recovery for harm by Pennsylvania fracking companies?
Two approaches to getting a fair recovery for fracking industry losses
The U.S. civil justice system exists to make sure that people can get fair compensation when another person or a business harms them through reckless or malicious behavior.
As the scope of fracking has expanded in recent years, the number of lawsuits over fracking injury claims has soared. As of August 2011, legal authorities were tracking about 40 injury claims through U.S. courts. Three years later, hundreds of similar lawsuits are now pending.
The majority of these cases are conventional personal injury lawsuits. These are the familiar types of cases that you have seen depicted on television and in movies. The majority of these cases are settled out of court after negotiations between attorneys for both sides.
But the rise in fracking personal injury suits has been accompanied by a parallel development: the fracking class action. A class action is a type of lawsuit where a number of people who have all been injured in a similar way join together to pursue a legal claim against a defendant. If the court agrees that the plaintiffs all seem to have similar cases, they will be allowed to share resources in the legal process. This means they can share expenses in obtaining the testimony of expert witnesses, share documents, and jointly arrange for medical investigation of specific facts.
The fortunes of the class-action plaintiffs rise and fall together. If the case goes to trial, the damage award will be divided among the members of the class in proportion to their injuries; however, if the defense wins the trial, no plaintiff will receive any compensation.
Class Actions for Fracking Claims
Class actions can potentially cover many types of gas drilling and extraction claims, such as:
- Real estate damage from fracking activity, including lost rents, lost value, or loss of use and enjoyment of real property
- Property trespass
- Contamination of natural resources, such as air pollution; groundwater, surface water, and well water contamination; and soil pollution
- Point-source pollution from spills or drilling sites
- Destruction of wildlife habitats
- Employee and community exposure to dangerous chemicals
- Vehicle accidents
- Worksite explosions
- Breeches of leasing or royalty agreements
The limits of class action for fracking claims
A class action may be appropriate for some fracking claims, but not all. The universal requirement for a valid class-based lawsuit is that all the plaintiffs must have suffered harm in a clearly similar way. If there is a lot of variation in the types of injuries, the court may reject certifying the class.
This issue also applies to individual claimants. If you sustained injuries during a fracking operation, you may have the choice to join an existing class action or pursue an individual claim. This is a critical choice. Your decision may alter your particular legal rights and may alter the possible value of your fracking injury settlement. It’s important that you make the choice that fits best with your future needs.
Whether you are considering filing an individual claim or joining a class action, you need legal advice right now. That’s why we recommend consulting a Pennsylvania fracking injury attorney as soon as possible. Jon Ostroff and his team at Ostroff Injury Law are ready to hear your story and give you the legal counsel you need right now. Call us today at (484) 351-0350 to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our experienced trial attorneys.