AP American History
Civil suits are important because they draw attention to a problem. Even though the case was somewhat of a failure, I feel that it had a great societal impact. It did not fulfill the task of being a vehicle for social change, although it had great potential, and did create an important awareness. Social change is a term conveying that a lawsuit of a civil action should result in justifying the impartiality. This does not always happen- like in
A Civil Action.
The city of Woburn, Massachusetts had a problem: it was being poisoned. No one quite knew why, but many residents of the community were breaking out into rashes, enduring stomach disorders, falling seriously ill, and the children of Woburn were dying of leukemia in statistically unusual numbers that resulted in a leukemia cluster. Anne Anderson, a Woburn mother whose son Jimmy died of leukemia, drove authorities into investigating the water, which started the case against carelessness by big business companies.
Finally, in 1979, two wells supplying drinking water to Woburn were shut down because health officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) thought they might have been contaminated by industrial wastes. The two main defendants were the W.R. Grace corporation, a chemical and manufacturing giant that built stainless steel equipment at a plant in Woburn, and Beatrice Foods, another mega-corporation, which operated a tannery there. Toxic chemicals from these operations, many thought, had leaked in and contaminated the wells. The most serious of these chemicals was a carcinogen called trichloroethylene, a solvent used to dissolve grease and oil, which explained the leukemia.
In civil suits, the plaintiff wants justice to be served because they claim one to be responsible for their hurt. They want the defendants to pay, in terms of money and in terms of truth, to justify the pain that they have suffered. The issues and complaints in this specific case is that the water in East Woburn, which was consistently used, was contaminated with harmful and toxic chemicals. Because the ingestion of this contaminated water caused many ailments, cell and other defects, symptoms of illnesses such as leukemia, and in some cases death, the plaintiffs wanted compensation and a fair judgment against the defendants. The defendants claimed that the accusations of the plaintiffs toward these prolific companies were false and should not be held responsible for the contamination of the unpalatable and hazardous water in Woburn.
There is a certain rule called Rule 11 that was intended to prevent frivolous and irresponsible lawsuits that are baseless or made up assumptions. Cheeseman used this in his first attempt to motion the case. He would base the accusation by showing that there is nothing in the TCE or percs that could cause leukemia because it was stated to be unknown by the EPA. The judge was impressed by Rule 11 because he thought that many cases were stupid and insignificant and this rule should be used more often. Although this rule was not enacted. We also see throughout that this rule was mentioned later again in the book when Schlichtmann appeals the case because he had found more information against Riley and Beatrice. The reason why he uses Rule 11 was that he indicated that he didnt have complete information for the trial and that he made accusations that were frivolous and couldnt be proven without this information.
The method of a summary judgment was also used in this case. It is a tool used to assure that a lawsuit isnt an exercise in futility. Although its not always successful, the main purpose is to prove that one has a valid case. It dismisses invalid claims. An example of summary judgment used in this book is when Cheeseman attempted to use this as a motion and asked Judge Skinner to dismiss the case, on the grounds that sclichtmann would be unable to present any competent scientific evidence showing that TCE causes leukemia. It was denied by the judge. We also see later in the book that Facher wants to file for a summary judgment based on the judges findings and the jurys verdict since the trial involving just the tannery would be a “hopeless exercise.” Through these methods we see the constant resistant of the companies as well as impartialitys by the judge to admit the wrongs of the massive corporate companies.
Civil suits are brought everyday although many of them are baseless or called ” dogs” in the book. If they were to be brought to court it would be an excursive in futility, but there are also “orphans” which has some potential to the case. I think that the potential of this lawsuit to perform social change existed but was denied through Res Judicita. Res Judicita is when a matter once decided in a court of law remains decided, and this is what the judge used to rebuttal the truthful information which contradicted the verdict. This concept was expressed strongly in this book. Once the verdict was made, the judge overlooked the information that forthright proved the verdict to be false. If the information had been uncovered earlier, although money was taken, truth and justice would be entailed as well. I think that this was obviously impartial because it proved the courts decision to be completely false. schlichtmann and the families did not deserve this. One would think that a judge is a person who enforces justice but ironically in this case he was the one that denied justice.
Lawsuits are what change and make laws. We constantly see this throughout history with landmark cases that dramatically change our society. This case would have changed social life through justifying wrong and cleansing the water as well as funding studies. A civil action suit is a tool just as much as any other case. Although many cases are baseless, if one were to dig through, they might have some hope of reforming society. We see this through Jan Schlichtmanns determination to win this case.
This specific case had great potential to be a vehicle for social change and to seek justice as well as compensate the tormented families of east Woburn. Although this potential was held back greatly by the viciousness of the justice system that is dominated by rich corporate companies. This corrupt justice system cause the epic courtroom showdown that was told about in this book. This case is proof of the negative aspects that the legal system posses. It is a shame that the one true thing that the legal system is based on- justice- is the one thing that is denied. Rather than justice being served, pain and aggravation is served through domination of massive companies and impartialities caused by the people within this terrible justice system.
Although this case proved to be a clear failure, it did serve one purpose that was of great importance. This purpose is that it furthered our knowledge about this corrupt justice system as well as expose the truth about the vicious corporate companies dominated by money. I think that because of ones knowledge and expectation that the justice system will deny them justice and truth, one should not hesitate to bring his civil suit to court. For this case might not lead to the results they desire, yet it will fulfill an even greater task, which is to bring attention and awareness to the specific case, as well as show the truth about our established court system. This book did just that. Considering that it was a best seller, this minute Woburn case has touched the minds of many people within our society. This book taught everyone a great lesson about our legal system. A lesson that should push people even more to make their civil suits known and not to turn away from trying and attempting. With this awareness, I believe that the awareness will result in a social change in itself.