The authors served as counsel for defendants Antero Resources Corp. and Antero Resources Piceance Corp. in the case that is the subject of this article, along with James Thompson and Robert Schick of Vinson & Elkins LLP in Houston. The views expressed herein are those only of the authors and not of the parties involved.
Defendants in toxic-tort actions often face difficult and expensive challenges in defending claims by highly motivated plaintiffs in cases fraught with technical complexity and public controversy. This article concerns a recent case in which the defense pursued an unconventional case-management strategy that resulted in the complete dismissal of a case involving the natural-gas extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing (fracking).
More than almost any other type of case, toxic-tort cases are fundamentally dependent on expert testimony, particularly in the core areas of exposure, dose, and medical causation. Plaintiffs file many of these cases, however, without securing in advance expert assistance to ensure their claims meet minimum standards of scientific and legal acceptability. Nonetheless, liberal pleading requirements and the rules governing motions to dismiss and for summary judgment can prevent deserving defendants from achieving early dismissal of such claims. Moreover, toxic-tort cases are often exceedingly expensive to defend due to a host of factors, such as the need for multiple experts, the expansive time periods over which relevant events occurred, and the voluminous data and documents involved. And defendants at times face pressure to settle even the weakest claim to avoid the high cost and distraction of prolonged litigation.