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American’s civil justice system is important because it gives people a chance to receive justice through the legal system when they are injured by misconduct or negligence by others, even if it means taking on large corporations. Although it does not get as much attention as criminal justice because its issues are not apparent, many Americans are involved in it every day. A Civil Action story by Jonathan Harr presents a civil justice system that is plagued by complexity and high costs. For instance, Jan Schlichtmann (the plaintiff’s lawyer) ought to have been a straightforward case, but it transformed into legal conundrum full of technicalities that took an extended period to settle. A Civil Action offers practical and theoretical insights on the nature of civil justice system processes and how the mass character in most civil case litigation puts the victims at stake.
One of the principal problems that Jan Schlichtmann encountered while litigating the Woburn case was identifying potential torts plaintiffs and all victims of the contaminated water. Woburn had many people, due to this significant population it was challenging to determine which children were affected by contaminated water. Schlichtmann at first was unable to establish that indeed the children cases of Leukemia were caused by contaminated water from H and G Wells. But it was later agreed that most of Woburn Leukemia cases were caused by toxins that were exposed to the environment which were suspected to be carcinogenic. Therefore, civil cases should be tailored according to the nature and size of the dispute and give solutions on what the disagreement requires.
The second problem that civil lawsuits present is the problem of indeterminate defendants which Ian Schlichtmann encountered while litigating the Woburn Case. The issue of indeterminate defendants arises when there is difficulty by practice or principal to accurately allocate the injurers the responsibility of causing harm. This problem of indeterminate defendants presents itself clearly in Schlichtmann lawsuit where he is unable to establish which company is liable for the contamination of water in Wells G and H. The civil justice system is not consistent on which the defendant should bear the burden when the defendants are many like the Woburn case.
Schlichtmann launched formal complaints to prove that W.R Grace and Beatrice Foods companies’ contamination of groundwater was the one causing Leukemia. The main difficulty Schlichtmann encountered was to prove these defendants were responsible. William Chessman, the defendants’ lawyer, refuted the claim by quoting research of the plaintiff who had admitted that there was no firm proof on the relationship between families, chemicals in the wells and Beatrice and Grace Companies. This case was clouded by establishing the causation fact of the two companies as the main polluters. Therefore, one can comfortably describe the American civil justice system as complicated and one that is shrouded by procedures and technicalities that delay justice while making it expensive; Schlichtmann had invested a fortune in this case which later made him file for bankruptcy.
A Civil Action presents an opportunity to understand various undertakings of the civil justice system especially the irresponsibility of the lawyers in the Woburn litigation. Jan Schlichtmann meant well for the Woburn residents. Harr’s story portrays him as balanced, sympathetic and with essential attributes such as generosity, astuteness, candor, industry, and tenacity. But these positive traits dwindle because of greed, ostentatious and spendthrift financial behavior, not listening to others carefully, self-centeredness and temper. This behavior made Schlichtmann place his interests ahead of his responsibilities to victims who were to seek adequate and fair verdict. Schlichtmann failed to appease his client by agreeing to a settlement of eight million dollars with Grace Co. The lawyer did not discuss the risks and advantages of representation with the Woburn families which violated the professional rules due to the conflict of interest. This instance shows that many lawyers in civil justice case litigation most of the times are after their interests.
Harr’s A Civil Action reflects on the emerging trend on the American civil justice system where most civil cases are against government bureaucracies and large corporations. The lawsuits consist of underemployed and minority groups, they are unable to get scientific evidence which is required to put liability and damages on these corporations. Courtrooms are now amphitheaters of toxic battles which armed with legal gladiators, trial judges and less-educated jurors who find it difficult to establish the arduous process. This perception clouds the pessimism of justice in civil cases which the public view as the theater where “money talks.” A Civil Action perfectly depicts this problem of American civil justice.
Harr’s account also gives an intriguing observation on how the laypersons contemplate the law. Laypersons perceive the justice system as pomposity of law, legal institutions, and lawyers. For example, the tearful reaction of Patti D-Addieco, a twenty-two-year-old woman who was hired in the Schlichtmann office after she failed to get medical records. The second example that shows pessimism of the justice system is Revered Bruce and Anne Anderson negative reactions to Schlichtmann’s counsel on Grace’s settlement. Bruce cynical view is based discussions that the lawyer has sold out the case for his benefits and he was patronizing his clients disingenuously on the value of the settlement. Anderson equated the negotiations on the settlement to childish patronage which was systematically excluding clients’ input.
In conclusion, one prevalent theme throughout the novel is on the conflict between finding the truth and the judicial procedure. The two are not compatible with each other. Trial tactics used by defendants overtake the fight for truth. These are the procedures that characterize the civil justice system where the defendants and the plaintiffs use underhand tactics to create the verdict rather than using facts of the case.
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