Take The Book 'a Civil Action' By Jonathan Harr And Outline This Case. Discuss The Problem Of People Whose Health Is Affected By Toxic Industrial Pollution In Obtaining Compensation Under Civil Law.

2643 words - 11 pages

In February 1986 Jonathan Harr met with a lawyer named Jan Schlichtmann and his partners and it was agreed that he would be allowed to follow the events of a major lawsuit as an observer on the inside. Schlichtmann was representing the families of 12 children, all of whom had died because of leukemia, from a small town called Woburn, Massachusetts. The parents of these children, who all lived within a half mile radius of each other, suspected that the leukemia was a direct result of drinking contaminated water from two city wells. The children fell ill between 1969 and 1979 with the wells finally being shut down in 1979.The case, labeled an 'orphan', had been passed between many law firms and it was Anne Anderson, mother of Jimmy Anderson who had died from leukemia, who contacted Schlichtmann and his colleagues about undertaking the case. Schlichtmann sat on the case for many years convinced that the case could not be won. However, after some reluctant investigation Schlichtmann determined that W. R. Grace, Inc and the J.J. Riley tannery, a subsidiary of Beatrice Foods may have contaminated the wells through their industrial practices.The water in Woburn had always been the topic of debate. Residents claimed that the water tasted of chlorine and some were convinced that it had 'rotted out the pipes' in their homes. The affected families sued Grace and Beautrice for damages on the grounds that they had been exposed to the chemical trichloroethylene (TCE). Attention had first been drawn to TCE when an Environmental Health Officer had run some routine tests at the wells and had discovered elevated levels of the chemical. At the time the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had TCE listed as a 'probable carcinogen'.Over the next four years Schlichtmann and his law firm amassed volumes of evidence suggesting that TCE could cause leukemia and that the two companies had contaminated the wells. Schlichtmann invested $2.6 million in the case, most of this being spent on hiring 12 expert witnesses that included doctors, numerous engineers, geologists and hydro-geologists. Unfortunately this evidence was not adequate enough to hold the defendants liable.The trial judge, Skinner, controversially divided the case up into stages and this meant that the jury absolved Beatrice of all liability but found Grace negligent, but only after September, 1973. This date severely hindered Schlichtmann's case. The judge ordered the jury to disregard all pre-1973 evidence and unfortunately several of the deaths had occurred before this time. This verdict would soon lead to an $8 million settlement with Grace. After covering legal expenses, the families were left with a mere $455,000 each and still Woburn was left contaminated.Schlichtmann spend fours years fighting the case and a further five taking the law suit through appeal after appeal. Still, he could not prove that the defendants had actually and proximately caused his clients injuries as required by tort law.The...

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