PRAGUE, Okla. – Three oil companies facing a class action lawsuit in Lincoln County for damages caused by a series of earthquakes centered around Prague have reached a settlement agreement with the plaintiffs in the case.
The settlement agreement was filed on Nov. 19, the same day Cleveland County District Judge Lori Walkley granted preliminary approval of the plaintiffs as a class.
The suit was filed in February 2015 as Cooper v. New Dominion LLC, et al. with Jennifer Lin Cooper as the named representative for all plaintiffs.
After the filing, Cooper told KFOR that her home was damaged on one of the nights in early November 2011, when three separate earthquakes with magnitudes of 5.0 or greater hit the area after she and her son had gone to bed.
“We were awoken at 2 in the morning to just this horrid rumbling in the wall, sounded like they were just going to cave in,” Cooper said. “… It was horrible, the brick was gone, fireplace off into the yard, the brick fireplace was off. We spent every Saturday for two years trying to repair just get it back to where the drive down my driveway didn’t make my heart sink.”
Defendants Spess Oil Company, Equal Energy US, Inc. and Fairfield Oil and Gas Corp. deny all allegations and no ruling has been made in the case but the three companies have agreed to collectively put $925,000 into a settlement fund, settlement administration firm Angeion Group wrote in a statement released Friday.
New Dominion, another defendant in the case, is not part of that settlement.
The company continues to defend itself against allegations of liability and is pursuing an appeal before the Oklahoma Supreme Court of Walkley’s decision to allow the case to move forward as a class action, plaintiffs’ attorney Scott Poynter said.
In July 2017, Spess Oil Company settled another case, Sandra J. Ladra, et. al. v. New Dominion LLC, et al., that was filed in 2014 by Sandra Ladra of Prague.
Ladra had petitioned for more than $75,000 in damages for injuries she suffered on Nov. 5, 2011 during a 5.7 magnitude quake, the second strongest quake in Oklahoma history, and Spess Oil Company settled with her for an undisclosed amount.
Poynter, who also represented Ladra, said that settlement was significant because it set the precedent that cases stemming from Oklahoma’s recent seismicity belong in the courtroom instead of being handled by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which oversees oil and gas regulation in the state.
“This is the first oil company that in our opinion has done the right thing and said, ‘Okay, let’s come to terms,’” Poynter told the Stillwater News Press at the time. “...(It’s a) public acknowledgement that says ‘We want to move forward and let the people who have been damaged move forward.”
He called that settlement “an important first step for oil companies to take responsibility for the part they play in Oklahoma’s earthquakes.”
The settlement class in Cooper v. New Dominion LLC,et al. includes current or former owners of commercial or residential property in Lincoln, Payne, Logan, Oklahoma, Cleveland, Pottawatomie, Seminole, Okfuskee and Creek counties, who sustained damage to their property during earthquakes with epicenters located within 15 miles of Prague that occurred between Nov. 5, 2011 and Nov. 16, 2018.
Governments and all public and private educational institutions are excluded from the settlement.
Attorneys’ fees of up to 40 percent, expenses up to $75,000 and a service award of $7,500 for Cooper as the class representative, which Poynter says is customary, will be deducted from the settlement before any claims are paid.
That leaves about $472,500 to be divided among the claimants.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency and Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management inspected about 450 – 500 properties in the described area for quake damage, Poynter said. But he estimates there could be as many as 1,000 affected property owners.
Class members have until April 29 to file their claims either by mail or online at oklahomaquakes.com.
Poynter said the process works much like filing an insurance claim and claimants will be expected to provide documentation of their damage, including photos and estimates.
Because the case is a class action, the legal rights of all potential claimants are affected by the settlement, whether or not they take any action.
Anyone who wants to exclude themselves from the class action so they can pursue an individual lawsuit must file that request by Dec. 31.
Anyone who wants to file an objection to the settlement has until Jan. 8 to inform the court.
Property owners in the affected area who don't file claims or opt out of the class action will receive no compensation and give up their rights to sue the settling defendants.