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Jan Schlichtmann (Travolta) is a cynical lawyer who co-runs a law firm in Massachusetts with his Boston partners. Eight families of deceased children sue a giant food conglomerate company and a leather company over the death of their children. The families accuse the companies of spilling poisonous chemicals into the water supply of Woburn, Massachusetts. The issue is a serious environmental disaster, and it has enormous potential. The children died of cancer, the leukemia type. However, the companies are leading providers of employment in the area.
With his wit, Jan usually comes in to ‘save a stuck case’. Mislead by their success, the need to make a fortune, the need to make a name for their law firm, Jan and his colleagues think that this is just a case to knock out of the dock. Initially, he dismisses the case because it had no target. The water was the cause of the infection. This means that the case had no defendant. Later, they realize that the two leading companies are involved. He and his partners set out to have the companies forced to decontaminate the areas, and to make them pay a large amount of money to the deceased families.
It turns out to be the biggest case of his life. The case is a threat to his financial status, ambition, pride, and his life too. He is willing to give up everything, just to win. The leather company lawyers are not easy to intimidate, and the judge rules him out. They just have to survive the craws of a biased judge, who plays golf with the leather company lawyer, Mr. Jerome Facher.
They use a lot of resources gathering information. Therefore, company had to be run short of funding, and they had to get loans! Their financial problem is well manifested where Anderson, the spokes person of the eight family challenges Jan on the fact that the families had lost more than what he and his partners had lost in their research. Jan had asked for eight million dollars, which would help them preside with the case. Jan’s friends are no longer determined to work with him because of the losses. Despite all this, they are lucky to have some company workers within the area who were courageous enough to testify the truth.
Unfortunately, the case is not about who loses and who wins. There is no obvious winner or loser at the end. He comes up with an idea to get the families compensated, but his life remains miserable. The environmental protection agency comes in to force the offenders to pay millions of money. He takes time to recover from his bankruptcy. He eventually turns to environmental law. It is always said that it is only a titan who can finish a titan. Therefore, it is only the agency that could rectify the whole issue. It is the only one mentioned though extremely powerful against the giant offenders.
The case is a little bit confusing. For one, it is hard to determine who the victim is until the case has a definitive form. Rightfully, according to Jan the compensation should go to the families of the deceased, and the decontamination should be done for the benefit of the whole community. Another question is that, why did the river go alight when the young punk throws fire cracker in the river? Were there any oil spills in the water? Why does Jan say that it is a disservice to the client for a lawyer to get emotional with his or her case?
The victims in this case are the families of the deceased children. The children had already died. Therefore, the deceased children cannot be referred as the victims. The family seeks compensation for the loss of their children, and other health effects that may occur to the rest of the people in the area.
At first Jan had foregone this case because it seemed to have no defendants. A case without a defendant or without a party to accuse is not a case. The water had caused the death, and there was no trace of the party contaminating the water. Again, deep scientific research needs to be undertaken before accusing a certain party of the offences against humanity. This calls for a lot of financial resources. Few law firms are able to raise adequate of money for this. The issue which party should be addressed as the victim can also bring in hardship in filing the lawsuit. It is also hard to determine compensation for loss of life. Often, money is the medium of compensation, but it cannot buy life. Therefore, it becomes hard to state the compensation.
It was hard for Jan to file the lawsuit because of its complexity. These strengths those to do a lot of expensive and tiring research. They go bankrupt at the end; the price of their efforts. They defendant lawyers were not easy to intimidate, and the judge rules Jan out after he declined the first offer of settlement. The victims are not able to raise enough money for the lawyers. Anderson, their spokes person, insists that they had lost more than the lawyers when Jan asked for an eight million dollars payment. They also had to continue doing with the risk of the deadly water even after the settlement. That was before the agencies came in to force for a clean-up.
The case was not resolved accordingly. Only one company lost well to the fist of justice. Otherwise, they rectified the whole issue, though not wholly through the command of a court of law i.e. the court involved. The court commanded the settlement only. The environmental protection agency came in and commanded the clean-up issue.
Going by the ruling, the outcome was not fair. The court was supposed to command a clean-up. The evidence may not have been enough, but every company has a social obligation or a social responsibility to the community around it. Therefore, the court should have commanded an unprofitable clean-up by the company. Otherwise, the fact that people died was enough evidence that a significant contamination had taken place just because of chemical spills by a chemical company.
The agency did not try its best to protect the people from health problems. It did not sensitize the whole of the community on contamination of water. At the end, we see the young punk throwing fire crackers into the river. Instead, it only acted on the bigger fish in the sea of many fish. It should have instilled strict rules and regulation against pollution in general, and fence along the rivers. However, the agency acted the right way though it did not complete its work. It should not have acted differently, but rather it should have step up its game.
Bond to the events of the movie, there should be strict rules and regulation governing companies’ response to environmental issues. Companies should act in accordance to their social obligation and responsibility. It should not take a lot of money to buy justice, since justice should not be bought but delivered at both lawyers’ and victims comfort. However, few expenses here and there are unavoidable. Therefore, justice has its price.