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A Civil Action Reprint Edition

417 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0679772675
ISBN-10: 0679772677
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Editorial Reviews 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: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (417 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,797 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 37 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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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
W.R Grace itself is basically a holding company which at one time had many divisions each very different from each other.But the company itself has been involved in many controversial things. Grace Construction has been embattled over the years in asbestos litigation,which it manufactured while simultaneously working on a chemical tracking database known as Prolab. When divisions of a company are fined or found in violation, the fines levied are charged against that division. Say a company has a $500 million division, then a fine of $1 million is charged against the operating budget of that one division, not from the total operating budget of the parent holding company. This is part of the reason why big multibillion dollar companies fight so vigorously what appear to be relatively small fines with respect to the entire financialhealth of the organization. In a written newspaper article not long ago, there was mention that GE of Pittsfield,Mass had hired former government employees to help them exploit holes in compliance regulations and this may be a part of the reason why Pittsfield,Mass has resulted in another major environmental case involving millions or billions in environmental cleanup costs. Do most major corporations do this across government agency strata? And do companies engage in risky behavior because of the shield of large environmental insurance policies?
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31 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
About a year or so after this case blew wide open, a person i'll call " Sean", had some experiences they feel may have been linked to this case. Sean worked for a controversial company, "BigCorp." (pseudonym) in Massachusetts discussed in this book. Almost immediately Sean was approached by an employee alleging strong ties to the Big Dig project. Sean was suddenly fired after some mention within BigCorp.of a contract entered into with alleged organized crime between a former employee and BigCorp.but made to look like Sean had made the deal. Some employees expressed concerns about missing invoices and confusing accounting practices and when Sean was asked to look into the matter,managers came forward in a threatening or hostile manner. Sean was soon part of a 'layoff' -later it was revealed it was a layoff of one. Big Corp. employed former government personnel in the environmental and safety fields.
Sean looked for help for a medical problem and soon learned Sean had been referred to a doctor who it turned out was a forensic psychiatrist and this doctor was not addressing the medical problem Sean had raised. This doctor immediately conferred with Sean's primary care doctor and Sean became suspicious something was going on. The health insurance plan was covered by BigCorp.
One day a meeting was called for Sean to meet with 2 plan doctors. Suspicious because this came in the midst of harassing phone calls and a wide array of other troubling events, Sean did not go. A few weeks later Sean received a letter from the primary care doctor, a man in his 30s, asserting that the doctor was 'resigning from the field of medicine'. Two years later the forensic psychiatrist dropped dead barely into middle age from unknown causes.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
WR Grace hailed TIAA-CREF,the academic world's largest private pension fund and a majority shareholder in Grace. On the board were also Alan Fiers of the CIA and Zbignew Brezinski, former NSA chief as well as Peter Lynch of Fidelity Investments.
Jan Schlictmann has lost most if not all of any proceeds from this case to Cadle Co. after the Boston Trade Bank failed.
Grace is/was a company very politically connected who hired former government officials, such as from EPA or OSHA,etc.
Many more families than just the ones in this case were affected, including families from the Woburn/Burlington side.
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