A Civil Action

Synopsis: Jan Schlichtmann, a tenacious lawyer, is addressed by a group of families. When investigating the seemingly non-profiting case, he finds it to be a major environmental issue that has a lot of impact potential. A leather production company could be responsible for several deadly cases of leukemia, but also is the main employer for the area. Schlichtmann and his three colleagues set out to have the company forced to decontaminate the affected areas, and of course to sue for a major sum of compensation. But the lawyers of the leather company's mother company are not easy to get to, and soon Schlichtmann and his friends find themselves in a battle of mere survival.
Genre: Drama
Director(s): Steven Zaillian
Production: Touchstone
  Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 5 wins & 8 nominations.
 
IMDB:
6.5
Metacritic:
68
Rotten Tomatoes:
60%
PG-13
Year:
1998
115 min
5,564 Views


It's like this. A dead plaintiff

is rarely worth as much

as a living,

severely maimed plaintiff.

However, if it's a long,

agonising death,

as opposed to a quick drowning

or car wreck,

the value can rise considerably.

A dead adult in his 20s is worth less

than a middle-aged one,

a dead woman less than a dead man,

single adults less than married,

black less than white,

poor less than rich.

But the perfect victim

is a white, male, professional -

40 years old, at the height

of his earning power,

struck down in his prime.

And the most imperfect?

Well, in the calculus

of personal injury law,

a dead child is worth least of all.

A million dollars he turns down.

- One million dollars!

- I don't believe their story.

- It's true.

- Come on!

- Hey, Eddie. How you doing?

- Good.

Do me a favour - shut the f*** up.

Our banker there doesn't know

Jan refused a million.

- Sorry.

- Yeah.

A**hole.

How's your head? Up?

How's that? OK?

Are you comfortable?

Open?

Here we go.

All rise.

This court is now in session.

The Honourable

Constance Mullen presiding.

Would you like some water?

Carney versus Massachusetts

General Hospital -

case number 812725.

Attorneys,

please state your appearance.

Randolph Woodside, Mass General.

Greg Monk,

Massachusetts General Hospital.

Harold Peshniak, Mass General.

Jan Schlichtmann for Paul Carney.

Kevin Conway for Mr Carney,

Your Honour.

Mr Schlichtmann, we're ready

for your opening statement.

Your Honour,

if it please the court,

the parties involved

have agreed to a settlement.

Personal injury law

has a bad reputation.

They call us ambulance chasers,

bottom feeders,

vultures preying on

the misfortunes of others.

If that's true, why do I lie awake

worrying about my clients?

Why is their pain my pain?

I wish I didn't empathise.

It'd be a lot easier.

We're speaking to Jan Schlichtmann,

personal injury attorney

and according to Boston magazine -

have you seen this? -

one of Boston's

ten most eligible bachelors.

Let's go back to the phones. Woburn,

you're on the air.

Mr Schlichtmann,

it's Anne Anderson.

- Hello.

- How are you?

Very well. You? Sounds pretty.

How come you never call me?

- If I had your number, I would.

- You have it.

- I do?

- You have no idea who I am?

- Is this Ricky?

- No.

You see, my son died of leukaemia

two years ago.

- Your firm is handling the case.

- We are?

The reason I'm calling you here

is because my calls to your offices

have gone unreturned for weeks.

- Sorry, your name was?

- Anne.

- Anne...

- Anderson.

I'm writing that down.

I'm gonna take care of this.

Why don't you come up to Woburn

and actually meet a few of those

people whose pain is your pain?

Let me picture this.

She called you, she cried.

You felt sorry and you cried.

- Now she's mad.

- It's a good case.

- She's not crying now!

- An orphan, but good.

12 deaths over 15 years from

leukaemia - eight of them children.

- That's unusual?

- Statistically. It's a small town.

She lost a child?

They think it's something to do

with the city's drinking water

which they say tastes funny.

What was she like before?

- Do want to hear what it's about?

- No, I don't!

I'd like to hear about it.

Thank you, Kathy.

There's a report here

from state inspectors

saying that the water

from two city wells

is contaminated - or was

before they shut them down -

with something called...

I can't pronounce this...

trichlorethylene...ethylene,

which the EPA lists

as a probable carcinogen.

- Stop.

- There's more.

No, from a financial standpoint,

this is not a sound investment.

Probable is a euphemism

for unproven.

To prove something like this,

you need new medical research.

Is that our business -

medical research?

And...and ask yourself,

why is this an orphan?

It's been kicked around

before ending up on your desk.

Gordon's right.

I can appreciate

the theatrical value of dead kids.

That's good. But that's all it has

going for it, and it's not enough.

I'll get rid of it.

I'll...just go up there and...

You'll both start to cry again,

she'll be mad at me.

I'll do it. I'll get rid of it.

Give it to me.

Thank you.

- There you go, sir.

- Thank you.

- Drive careful.

- Yeah.

When I stand on my porch,

I can see the houses

where children died.

These are the Kanes,

the Toomeys, the Zohners,

the Robbins and the Aufieros.

Now, I want to be clear.

I'm not interested in money -

none of us are.

What we want is to know what

happened. And we want an apology.

- From who?

- Whoever did this.

I want somebody to come and say,

"We're responsible.

"We didn't mean it,

but we're sorry."

But who is that?

Well, we don't know.

Mrs Anderson, our firm is

very small, just three attorneys.

We can only take

so many cases at once

and we have to be choosy because,

frankly, we can't afford to lose.

We pay everything. We only get paid

if we win or settle.

- I know.

- You want an apology.

And I'd love to get you

that apology, but from who?

Who is going to apologise to you and

pay me?

There has to be a defendant

with very deep pockets.

This is not

an inexpensive case to try.

There's an old tannery out there.

A tannery?

And some other small factories.

I really wish I could help you

but I can't. I'm sorry.

Maybe you could go out to

the river, to the wells, and look.

For what?

Rate this script:5.0 / 1 vote

Steven Zaillian

Steven Ernest Bernard Zaillian (born January 30, 1953) is an American screenwriter, director, film editor, and producer. He won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award and a BAFTA Award for his screenplay Schindler's List (1993) and has also earned Oscar nominations for Awakenings, Gangs of New York and Moneyball. He was presented with the Distinguished Screenwriter Award at the 2009 Austin Film Festival and the Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement from the Writers Guild of America in 2011. Zaillian is the founder of Film Rites, a film production company. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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