Movie review on a civil action

(1). Typically, anyone one who has been injured because of the negligence of another is entitled to recover two types of damages, compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are meant to compensate for the emotional, financial, and physical damage that the victim has suffered. There are two types of compensatory damages, monetary losses (financial losses), and non-monetary losses (pain and suffering caused by injury, etc.). Punitive damages are meant to punish the person who has caused the injury, and these damages are only awarded under special circumstances. It is apparent that the damages that a plaintiff in a personal injury case is entitled to recover are intended to compensate the damages the plaintiff has suffered. Critics would argue that personal injury lawyers like Jan Schlichtmann consider a dead plaintiff less worth than an injured so they can win big civil judgments. However, perhaps a more logical explanation is that as the film’s title suggests, a civil action is meant to allow the injured party to receive equal compensation for losses incurred. A dead plaintiff would not recover as much compensation as an injured, such as in the form of health care, personal assistance, etc., and thus, it can be concluded that the injured plaintiff is worth more than the dead one. As Schlichtmann narrates in a voiceover, that “[t]he perfect victim is a white male professional, [] at the height of his earning power, struck down in his prime” (A Civil Action). Schlichtmann’s wheel-chair clad client not only fits this description, but as shown in the opening scene, cannot even perform simple things that taken for granted by us. It seems obvious that the jury would rule in favor of Schlichtmann and his client, and perhaps even rule out punitive awards, and so it is not surprising that the defense lawyer increased his offer to $2 million to settle the case.
(2). Defense attorneys often ask trivial or the same questions repeatedly in different ways so that person might answer inconsistently. However, although the questions that Facher asks the plaintiffs about their habits and lifestyle might seem trivial to some, but from the perspective of a defense attorney and in the context of the case, these questions seem to be meaningful. Facher’s strategy behind asking these trivial questions was to find out if the plaintiffs in the Woburn trial were using items that allegedly contained supposedly contained a carcinogen. For instance, bacon contains dimethylnitrosamine and nitrosopyrrolidine, peanut butter contains aflatoxin B1, and the resin used to make non-stick pans contain acrylonitrile, all of which are carcinogens. So it seems that Facher apparently wanted to prove that the companies involved in the trial were not responsible for the cancer cluster but the plaintiffs’ own habits and lifestyle.
(3). Schlichtmann’s intention behind demanding $320 dollars was honest and just because he wanted his clients duly compensated for the damages they had suffered. However, Jan had indeed begun to lose his objectivity. His pride and poor judgment caused him to overestimate the damages that he thought would be awarded to the families by the jury. If Jan was sensible enough he would not have turned down the pre-trial settlement offer of $8 million. There are two reasons that can be assumed behind Facher’s decision to offer a settlement, even though he knew that his client would not be found liable since the plaintiff families were not allowed to testify. Facher knew that Jan would lose the case and the plaintiffs would not be compensated at all, so the settlement would provide the families with something rather than nothing to ease their losses. Secondly, Facher realized that Jan’s firm was under considerable financial burden, and accepting the settlement would allow him to relieve the firm’s debts. Facher is a brilliant and well-paid attorney, even better than Jan, yet carries an old, tattered briefcase, and his personality is nothing like Jan’s. However, perhaps it can be assumed that Facher was once in a similar position as Jan is near the end of the film, and he wants to prevent him from going down the path of self-destruction (which he ultimately does), by offering settlement.
(4). The first stage of litigation is the Pleadings Stage in which the ‘ complaint’ is sent, and in the film, this stage begins when at about 00: 15: 39 when Jan declares that “ Lawsuits are war [] And they begin the same way, with a declaration of war – the complaint” (A Civil Action). Thus, Jan sends the complaint to Facher, the attorney for Beatrice Foods, one of the companies Jan decides to go against. Responding to the complaint, Facher’s firm file a motion to dismiss the complaint based on Rule 11, stating that the complaint was prepared frivolously and inexpertly. However, the presiding Walter J. Skinner dismisses the motion stating that Rule 11 is “ old and ambiguous” (A Civil Action) and no counterclaim is issued. The Discovery Stage of litigation begins in the very next scene, which shows him talking to Pinder, the scientific expert witness, who advises him that he will need a big team of geologists and engineers. The very next few scenes an show Jan questioning employees of two companies, until one W. R. Grace’s employees admits that he saw the dumping of toxic chemicals on the ground. The Pre-trial stage takes place at after the Scene 3, when both firms sit face to face, and discuss a possible settlement, and by making an outrageous demand, ensures that they go to trial. The final, Trial Stage, begins in Scene 6, and the trial proceeds throughout the remainder of the film.
(5). As indicated earlier, Jan Schlichtmann lost everything that he had because of his pride and poor judgment. Instead of pursuing the case objectively, he began pursuing it with vengeance, and that led to his downfall. The parents had no intention of recovering compensation because the damage had already been done, their children now had leukemia, and nothing would change that. What they did want was that the companies that were to blame, to be held responsible, to be punished, and to clean up the contamination they had caused. Although the jury in the Woburn case did not find Beatrice Foods liable, the Environmental Protection Agency’s intervention, even though it was a bit too late, forced the two companies responsible for the contamination to pay for the cleanup the area.

Works Cited

Zaillian, Steven, dir. A Civil Action. 1998. Film. 2 Mar 2013..