Name of movie: Erin Brokovich
Year of release: 2000
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Main actors/actresses: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart, Conchata Ferrel, and Marg Helgenberger
In the film, Erin, a law clerk at Ed Masry`s law firm, discovers that a myriad of health problems such as cancer, miscarriages, severe nosebleeds and headaches in the Hinkley, California community are linked to the presence of Chromium 6(Hexavalent Chromium) in their water system. The chemical has infiltrated the environment from the plant of the powerful energy corporation Pacific Gas and Electric PG&E. In addition to the health problems, there is the issue of conscious environmental damage. This is proven by Charles Ebry, a former employee of PG&E who approaches Erin and offers documents that the firm has ordered destroyed containing evidence of harmful chemicals. “Hexavalent Chromium is proven to be harmful to both humans and the environment” (Goldfrank et al 1282). PG&E also engages in bribery when they send an employee to offer $250,000 for the house of the Jensen family, whose daughter Annabel has cancer, on the condition that they never undertake any legal action against them. Community members are also encouraged to visit doctors on the company payroll free of charge. These doctors always disassociate their health problems to the presence of harmful chemicals in the environment. There is also the issue of premeditated deception when PG&E calls the community members to a meeting and claims that it uses a relatively harmless chemical Chromium 3, in their plant despite documented evidence of their use of Chromium 6.
The legal issues in the film include the representation of a plaintiff (the Hinkley community) by a lawyer (Ed Masry) on a contingent fee basis. This meant that if the plaintiffs lost the lawyer had received no fees and that, in the case of settlement, his firm would receive a percentage. Another issue is that of class action lawsuits, which allow a large number of people with a common interest to be sued or sue as a group. The lead character Erin, convinces more than 600 members of the community to join the Jensen family in suing PG&E.
Class action lawsuits give ordinary people the ability to seek legal redress from large corporate or private entities. The claims to be consolidated in class action have to be numerous and similar, and the named plaintiffs must be typical of the completely potential class (Jost 13). When an individual with a grievance discovers a group with a similar complaint against the same party, they can join each other to bring together a class suit. This is done by hiring an attorney who puts the company on notice to correct the problem. In case he receives no response, the attorney researches on the issue at hand and files a suit for one or more parties with the court. He takes depositions and asks the court to certify the case as a class action where all individuals in the same circumstances get redress. If the case is certified by the court, the lawsuit can then officially proceed.
The general rule of law in the United States is out of court settlements that never reach trial when the judge approves their fairness. The parties involved in class actions usually find the litigation process to be stressful and prefer less tasking ways of getting justice. “It is extremely difficult to balance accuracy and clarity in class notices” (Anderson & Trask, 185). This was also the case in the movie. The Community got their settlement, but it impeded the course of justice in the end, as the company was able to deny their guilt to the public despite the settling. This trend ensures that white-collar criminal rarely account for their actions. Significant exceptions include the Enron case whereby the beneficiaries of fraud were called into account.
Anderson, Bill, and Trask, Andrew The class action playbook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.
Jost, Kenneth. Class action lawsuits: Will the Supreme court approve the Wal-Mart case? Washington DC: CQ press, 2011. Print
Lewis Goldfrank, Neal Lewin, et al, Goldfrank`s toxicologic emergencies. New York: McGraw-Hill Professional. Print.