The majority of the time, when an earthquake strikes, it's because of a natural phenomenon such as plate tectonics. In recent years, though, the growing use of fracking to extract oil and gas from the ground appears to be connected to the increase in earthquake activity in various parts of the country.
Unfortunately, it's often difficult for people who have been hurt during these unnatural events to obtain compensation from those responsible for producing these quakes. However, a recent decision by the Oklahoma Supreme Court may have made it easier for injured parties to get money from fracking companies for their losses.
The Case of Ladra vs. New Dominion
This lawsuit came about when the plaintiff was injured during a 5.6 magnitude earthquake that occurred on November 5, 2011. She claims the shaking caused rocks from her chimney and fireplace to loosen and fall on her, leading to serious injuries.
She filed a lawsuit for $75,000 in damages against the companies who were doing fracking in the area, claiming the earthquake was a direct cause of their underground activities. However, the company attempted to have the case dismissed from the court and sent to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission for resolution. The Oklahoma Supreme Court, through, decided in favor of the plaintiff on this issue. This means she will have her day in court where she can make her case for compensation.
It's important to note that the Oklahoma Supreme Court did not assign any liability to the company for the earthquake or the plaintiff's damages. It only affirmed that the case was a tort action that should be heard by a court and not by a regulatory committee. The ruling is important, though, because it may prevent oil and gas companies from diverting future lawsuits to other venues that may give them an unfair advantage.
The Challenges of Bringing a Case
Getting the okay to sue in court is only a small win in the battle to get compensated for injuries and losses you sustain due to an earthquake caused by fracking. The most challenging part will be proving the earthquake was caused by the company's activities and that your damages were the direct result of the quake. While connecting your injuries to the earthquake will likely be easy, showing the company caused the earthquake may not be.
Research into the connection between fracking and earthquakes has produced some evidence that the two are related. Scientists from the University of Miami studied 77 earthquakes that occurred in a town in Ohio between March 7 and March 12 and compared them to the times the oil and gas companies were fracking in the area. They found the earthquakes that shook the town corresponded to the times when the companies were active.
While the research is promising, it may not be compelling enough to get a judge or jury to decide in your favor. For instance, in the previously referenced study, the earthquakes all occurred when the fracking was done near a fault line. No earthquakes appeared to be produced in areas where there wasn't a fault line. If you don't live near a fault line, then it may be difficult to provide evidence connecting the earthquake to the fracking activity.
Another problem is the majority of earthquakes studied were small, falling between 1.0 and 3.0 in magnitude. The only quake felt by the town, though, was the 3.0. In addition to proving the fracking caused the earthquake, you'll need to prove that the company's activity induced a quake sufficiently large enough to cause your damages.
If you think you have a case against a fracking company for damages, contact a personal injury lawyer for assistance. The attorney can help you determine and obtain exactly the type of evidence you'll need to increase your chances of winning in court.