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Cerny v. Marathon Oil Corp.

ELR Citation: 45 ELR 20200
Nos. 04-14-00650, (Tex. App. Ct., 10/07/2015)

A Texas appellate court upheld a lower court decision dismissing a family's nuisance and negligence claims against two oil companies for alleged health and property damage stemming from hydraulic fracturing operations near their home. To overcome the defendant companies' no-evidence summary judgment motion on causation, the family had to present more than a scintilla of expert evidence that emissions from the oilfield operations caused their injuries and property damage. Yet, they failed to do so. Under state case law, an expert witness' failure to rule out alternative causes of injury renders the expert's opinion unreliable, and legally constitutes no evidence. Here, none of the experts relied on by the family presented any evidence excluding other potential causes of the family's alleged injuries and property damage. In addition, it was undisputed that each of the family members suffered from multiple chronic health conditions that existed prior to the commencement of oilfield operations, that the family's home had foundation damage prior to the operations, and that the defendant companies are not the only companies conducting oil and gas operations in the vicinity of the family's home. Moreover, no expert evidence was presented differentiating between the family's pre-existing physical conditions and the new health problems they claim arose after the oilfield operations began near their home. Likewise, the family failed to raise a material fact issue on causation on their nuisance claim. Even considering the stricken lay witness affidavits about the foul odors, dust, noise, and traffic, the evidence does not link the oil companies as the proximate cause of the conditions that substantially interfered with the family's use and enjoyment of their property.