Jonathan Harr wrote a compelling novel, called A Civil Action, on the actual events of a thrilling court case involving two major corporations and the families who were affected greatly. In Woburn, Massachusetts there were twenty-eight children who contracted acute lymphocytic leukemia between the years of 1964 and 1986. The explanation for the contraction of the disease and even the death of some of the children was discovered in the water; two municipal wells near the town were found to be contaminated with toxic chemicals. Eight families filed suit against W.R. Grace & Co. and Beatrice Foods Inc., accusing them for the contamination of the wells and the death of their children. The families only wanted an apology and the truth but when the case began, discovering the truth became difficult.
One prevalent theme found throughout the book is the conflict between finding the truth and the judicial process. The two are almost always incompatible with each other in the courtroom, and A Civil Action illustrates that quite well. The fight for the truth was taken over by trial tactics used by the defendant, whose goal was to keep the truth from getting out. It is natural for the plaintiff and the defendant to use tactics to create the verdict rather than using the facts of the case because both aim for success. Misinformation, partial truths, and hidden facts are common in the courtroom and one scene of A Civil Action shows how it can change the whole trial. People of the courtroom can manipulate the trial so the odds are in their favor. Rarely is truth ever the main focus.
The courtroom is not used for finding out the truth. It is used for power and gaining riches. Jerome Facher, a defendant in the Woburn case for Grace, was good with his tactics and knew how to play the game. He realized that the victims would trigger sympathy from the jurors. By convincing Judge Skinner to divide the trial into two phases, the stories of the victims could be avoided. Phase two contained stories from the victims so victory must be achieved in phase one. Strategies in court are used much of the time to prevent the truth to be revealed in court. In a conversation with Schlichtmann, Facher stated, “the truth? I thought we were talking about a court of law. Come on, you've been around long enough to know that a courtroom isn't a place to look for the truth.” Facher also stated, “truth is found at the bottom of a bottomless pit." If truth is never found in court, it must’ve taken a lot of nerve to take on the Woburn case. Facher’s words provide proof that achieving victory is far more important than providing the facts and discovering truth, in his opinion. His actions and tactics indeed worked for him.
Furthermore, the chances of the plaintiff winning a civil court case are low. When it comes to it, a settlement is commonly agreed on before a verdict is even presented. Schlichtmann didn’t want the case and refused at first because he knew it was going to be tough. He...