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Court rules for natural gas company in class action medical records dispute

Court rules for natural gas company in class action medical records dispute

SCRANTON, Pa.—A group of Northeast Pennsylvania residents will have to allow a natural gas drilling company access to their medical records if they wish to pursue their class action lawsuit against the company, a court-appointed special master ruled last week.

More than 60 claimants sued Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. in 2009 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Scranton, Pa., demanding medical monitoring for pollution exposure resulting from the company's regional “fracking” operation in the Marcellus Shale near Dimock, Pa. The company is regionally based in Montrose.

In February, the company's attorneys asked the plaintiffs, who live in and near Dimock, for access to their medical records in order to verify claims of personal injury and the need for medical monitoring. Thirty-eight of the plaintiffs moved to block the request in March on the grounds that they claimed no personal injury as a result of the drilling.

The special master, Jennifer Clark, on Nov. 1 ruled for the company, finding that the records were relevant to the claims seeking medical monitoring, regardless of whether any individual plaintiff had sustained an injury.

The plaintiffs, according to court documents, leased the rights to the company to drill on their land along a nine-mile stretch of the Marcellus Shale in Northeast Pennsylvania, and claim the drilling operations have contaminated drinking water, soil and air. The lead plaintiff in the class action suit, Norma Fiorentino, claims in court documents that her drinking water well exploded in January 2009.