Civil Action Essay, Research Paper
In 1979, two wells supplying the drinking water for the small New England town of East Worburn, in Massachusetts, were found to be dumping industrial solvents. At this same time in Massachusetts, there were other investigations of industrial dumping. The residents of Worburn had long been concerned about their foul-tasting drinking water and the unexplained high incidence of leukemia deaths of the young children in their community.
Anne Anderson, a mother whose son Jimmy died of leukemia in 1981, spearheaded the efforts of eight Worburn families to determine the parties responsible for their environmental tragedy. Eventually “mega corporations” Beatrice Foods and W.R. Grace & Co. were identified as the owners of the properties that may have been the possible source of most of the pollutants.
Jan Schilctmann, a personal-injury lawyer, and his small law firm were hired to sue these two major corporations. He was hired to sue them for the damage arising from the pollution of the town’s drinking water.
Jerome Facher, was the chief litigator at a venerable Boston law firm, were he was in charge of representing Beatrice Foods. William Cheeseman was appointed to defend the interests of the international conglomerate W.R. Grace. These codefendants are well aware of the potentially high stakes of this lawsuit and are fully prepared to throw their considerable resources behind an uncompromising defense to the charges presented before them. The trial is presided over by U.S District Judge Walter J. Skinner.
In the book A Civil Action, is this example of the justice system gone awry or is it an example of ordinary citizens attaining access to the process of justice?
In the story a civil action there were many ups and downs over the eight-year trial. Schlichtmann succumbs to the temptations of greed, good intentions, and the boasting, and plummets to the deepest circles of wasted opportunity as well as courtroom embarrassment and at the same time bankruptcy. In reading this case and story I started to see Schlichtmann as “David” and the defense as “Goliath”. I could not imagine having to take two huge law firms and at the same time two huge companies and try to get them to confess to the internal destruction they caused. The pressure and humility would be unbearable for me to handle. He sees this destruction first hand when he is driving through Worburn and was stopped for speeding. He later gets out of the car and trespasses on the land to see that the companies involved are not small violators but big criminals. He then knows there is a case to be had. I believe that this is one of the many reasons that this case did not receive the justice that it deserved. Schlichtmann and his partner James Gordon, really show the darkness of the law, by looking at the financial outcome of the verdict. Gordon felt there was a “bottomless hole of investment”, meaning the time and energy did not equal the means. Therefore, they were hesitant to take the case. This part of the story shows that the greed of money has an influence on the justice system. I mean that by lawyers passing over cases that seem to be a “no win” situations; people that are seeking justice are being robbed of their right to a trial. Lawyers are people that are here to represent injustices that have been done to us. Therefore, they are not supposed to pass judgement on a case do to its benefits. However, we know that this is wishful thinking and that lawyers are just the same as the rest of the world, in the fact that they want fame and fortune.
Another piece of evidence that hints that the case against the two companies was an example of justice gone awry, is the law as well as the court’s interest in the admittance and examination of evidence. The verdict of this case was for the defense although the prosecution gathered a mountain of evidence. I feel that it was not just Judge Skinner’s decision that illustrated an injustice but it was the law itself. As we know the judge has the say in the admittance of evidence, but we also know that the law prevents certain evidence from affecting the outcome of a case. Judge Skinner felt that the evidence that the prosecution wanted to present was going to persuade the public into feeling sympathy for the client’s families. This sympathy was thought by Skinner to give the prosecution an unfair advantage. Therefore, he declined the many attempts for admittance. The inward legal fighting caused the courts eyes to “glaze” and in the end hurt the prosecution’s case.
Schlictmann suffered many traumas throughout the long trial. He was a good lawyer. However, he was so caught up in his own money and his own sense of personal justice that he never found any eye wittiness of the events and ordeals that were happening in the town of Woburn. These witnesses were needed to help break open the case and persuade Skinners opinion of the events that happened. Schlictmann had spent most of the time trying to expose the secrets of Grace and the companies.
Schlichtmann and his partners used the “common law system” which is using past cases which are similar to the one at hand to try to see the out come of the present case; it sets a precedent. However, in past cases the settlements were a lot higher and the rewards for the lawyers were a lot greater. Therefore, the precedent that they were looking for gave them a false indication of the final judgement in the case. Schlictmann was mistaken, which eventually lead to the eventual failure of this case. In addition, most of the cases used to compare settled for large sums of money. When the case was done the victim’s families reviewed close to $80,000 for the loss of their loved one. I feel that this is a terrible price to put on one’s life.
I think that it is unfair in a civil trial for the judge to make the ruling on the money rewarded to the winner. Because I know that if the judge had lost his son due to the irresponsible mishaps of the companies, then he would have chosen to rule differently. I also feel that the judge just wanted to settle, because of the time that was spent on the case and the publicity it was bringing. I do not know how a person that has the power to decide a person’s fate or loss of millions of dollars could and would fold to the pressure.
There were alternative ways of handling this case. One of which was the alternative dispute resolution, which is a way of solving a dispute without using litigation. Although it may be cheaper, quicker, or less publicity it would have little impact on a case such as the one presented in A Civil Action.
At the end of A Civil Action, it seems that the book places more emphasis on Schlichtmann’s psychological journey, than on justice for the victims. The story leaves the reader with an unsatisfied feeling because it seems that both the case as a whole and Schlictmann were “defeated by reality.” This is a sad result and truth that no one can change or necessarily prevent, making the story all the more frustrating. Until the legal system changes, and lawyers put aside their desires for personal gain in order to pursue justice for their clients, the end result of A Civil Action will continue to plague us.