With 100 or more damage-causing earthquakes worldwide each year, it goes without saying that many are severely injured or even killed during a serious quake. While the majority of earthquakes are caused by natural tectonic shifts or other broad environmental factors, a small number of earthquakes may be due to fracking -- a type of oil drilling that creates cracks in the underlying earth, potentially triggering earthquakes up to miles away. A recent decision by the Oklahoma Supreme Court affected the ability of those injured by fracking-caused earthquakes to file civil lawsuits against the corporations responsible. Read on to learn more about how this case law could affect future earthquake victims.
When can those injured by fracking file a civil lawsuit?
Many states, including Oklahoma, have a separate environmental or corporate regulatory agency that adjudicates environmental disputes. For example, if you suffer property damage due to a wastewater disposal company's improper disposal, you may not be able to file a civil lawsuit against this company, but instead must have the claim arbitrated before an environmental judge.
However, these agencies don't have jurisdiction when a company that is normally subject to these administrative regulations causes personal, physical harm. The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently held that an individual injured in a fracking-related earthquake had the right to file a personal injury lawsuit against the oil company responsible, even though the oil company was normally subject to the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. This is important for those injured because civil lawsuits can potentially provide a greater payout or jury award than a judgment determined by a single administrative law judge. Potential plaintiffs will also have the option to appeal an unsuccessful verdict to their state appellate court.
What should you do if you've suffered physical harm after an earthquake you believe may be fracking-related?
If you were injured in an earthquake that can be directly attributed to fracking, you'll want to consult with a personal injury attorney licensed in your state. Most state venue rules permit lawsuits to be filed in the state in which the injury occured -- so even if the oil company was operating in another state, if this activity caused shock waves to travel to your area, you should be able to file a lawsuit in your home state.
This also means that your potential lawsuit will be subject to your state's statute of limitations. If you wait too long to file, your claim may expire, and you could be forever barred from pursuing compensation from the company responsible for your injury. Your personal injury attorney will help you put together your case and ensure that it's properly filed on time.