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A Civil Action Paperback – Bargain Price, August 27, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0679772675 ISBN-10: 0679772677 Edition: Reprint
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In America, when somebody does you wrong, you take 'em to court. W. R. Grace and Beatrice Foods had been dumping a cancer-causing industrial solvent into the water table of Woburn, Massachusetts, for years; in 1981, the families of eight leukemia victims sued. However, A Civil Action demonstrates powerfully that--even with the families' hotshot lawyers and the evidence on their side--justice is elusive, particularly when it involves malfeasance by megacorporations. Much of the legal infighting can cause the eyes to glaze. But the story is saved by great characters: the flawed, flamboyant Jan Schlichtmann and his group of bulldogs for the prosecution; Jerome Facher, the enigmatic lawyer for Beatrice, who proves to be more than a match; John J. Riley, the duplicitous, porcine tannery owner; and a host of others. It's impossible not to feel the drama of this methodical book, impossible not to grieve for the parents who lost children, and impossible not to share Schlichtmann's desperation as he runs out of money. A Civil Action reads like one long advertisement for a few well-placed Molotov cocktails. (But that wouldn't make for a very long book, now would it?)

From Publishers Weekly

This tale of a somewhat quixotic quest by an idealistic young lawyer concerns his efforts to secure damages from two corporate giants, Beatrice Foods and W.R. Grace, for allegedly polluting the water in Woburn, Mass., a Boston suburb, with carcinogens. Jan Schlichtmann had hoped that a victory would send a message to the boardrooms of America and felt that the cluster of leukemia victims in Woburn (the disease had claimed the lives of at least six children) guaranteed his success. But he reckoned without certain developments: first, the case went to a federal court, a less sympathetic venue for damage suits than state courts; second, the trial judge appears to have been unsympathetic to his case; third, at least one of the defense witnesses lied; four, defense attorneys evidently failed to deliver all relevant documents to Schlichtmann's team. The case against Beatrice was thrown out, and the plaintiffs accepted a settlement of $8 million from Grace. Personally bankrupt, Schlichtmann considered himself a failure. Former New England Monthly staffer Harr has told the story expertly, although more exhaustively than most readers may wish. Author tour; movie rights to Disney.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 502 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (August 27, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679772677
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679772675
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (406 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,772 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is a depressing lesson in the ways that our judicial system don't work. An adverserial system of justice, by its very nature, leads not to an inquiry into the truth but instead to a polarized system where each side is fighting for its own side and disinterested in the merits of its opposition.
While this book was, in many ways, a real downer, it was also a fascinating chronicle of litigation. I was immediately drawn in my the families' tragedies, Schlichtmann's flawed but good-hearted optimism, and the interaction between the lawyers and the judge. As Schlichtmann swirled deeper into debt, I found it impossible not to feel a growing sense of desparation along with him. The ending is bitterly disappointing, but in many ways the families eventually got what they wanted with subsequent EPA actions and criminal prosecutions.
My husband and I are both attorneys. Last year, he was involved in a case in which the outcome was simply criminal. I felt I could relate in a deeper sense to the drama in A Civil Action after experiencing such a travesty of justice firsthand. We have to work within the confines of the flawed legal system that exists now, but we must accept that it is far from perfect. Judges and juries--as humans--get things wrong all the time. This book, in gripping prose, demonstrates this basic fact of life in all too vivid of detail.
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book centers around a town in a county prosperous in technology.Middlesex county was a hub of activity in the early 1960s and the synchrony of events precipitated by the introduction of this book in 1995 is curious. In 1995 Whitey Bulger disappeared with that convoluted case ensuing a tragedy for all parties involved. Whitey is said to have had a girlfriend in the area and many FBI agents in this case hail from the area. George Cashman, head of Teamsters Local 25 has been a Woburn resident. Cashman has been supportive of former governor (and now Ambassador) Paul Cellucci. In addition to FBI agents, there are undoubtedly many agencies represented as family members in the strata of constituents of Middlesex county.
In this case you have 2-3 companies held accountable. The only company which admitted a measure of responsibility in the tragedy is Grace. In the region there may have been 60-100 firms doing business with varying levels of dumping going on at a time predating EPA and RCRA ( establishing EPA) and that dumping was legal. Part of the problem in this case might have been a confusion over regulatory oversight. The Slichter Act empowered the state to intervene in matters of public safety.The Slichter Act was formed in the late 1940s in the wake of Mob violence breaking up a strike.
The problem with Grace is that it has repeatedly been involved with environmental controversies.
What would have happened if a company had dumped legally but later openly admitted that it had done so and began the process of cleanup and making ammends? Sometimes telling the truth engenders as much punishment as not telling the truth. Under these circumstances, why would anyone come forward?
Why does chemical irresponsibility occur at all...
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
In the early 1960s, NASA was looking to put a research center in Woburn that may have been perceived as competition for funding for New England military bases, like the Boston Navy Yard.The land around the area mentioned by this book was quite controversial and there were many more than 6-8 families affected by cancer in the wake of pollution of the local groundwater. It could have been stopped with the implementation of the Slichter Act, designed for public safety. This book highlights one controversial case involving 3 major companies,WR Grace the primary one along with Beatrice foods. Grace is a company that had at one time a former national security advisor (Zbignew Brezinski), CIA officer (Al Fiers) and Peter Lynch of Fidelity Investments (newspapers listed this info)...
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36 of 43 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This case is fundamentally about responsibility. Corporations by design exist to conduct business with a much higher degree of protection than that afforded to a private citizen. Even if a company is found guilty of anything, the fines imposed are absorbed by laying off workers and the legal fees ultimately passed back to the customer. If an employee observes questionable activity in the company they risk alienation from peers, blocked career growth, or even termination by 'making waves' in the organization. If an outside agency like EPA comes in, they must counterweigh potential layoffs to any fines they might impose. A hidden sleeping giant in regulating corporation responsibility might be insurers of the business, who stand to lose large sums of money in liability cases. In examining this case, one might wonder if there is a relationship between environmental pollution and the ultimate handling of the cleanup. If companies pollute and the EPA ultimately comes in, dispenses funds to orchestrate the cleanup, and remediation contractors are called in, don't the contractors for EPA have a ready business source? Could some of the biggest polluters be friendly to the cleanup companies with which the EPA contracts?
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