A Civil Action (film)

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A Civil Action is a 1998 American drama film about the families of children who died who sue two companies for dumping toxic waste: a tort so expensive to prove, the case could bankrupt their lawyer.

Directed and written by Steven Zaillian, based on the book of the same title by Jonathan Harr.
Justice has its price.

Jan Schlichtmann[edit]

  • It's like this. A dead plaintiff is rarely worth more than a living severely-maimed plaintiff. However, if it's a long, slow, agonizing death as opposed to a quick drowning or car wreck, the value can rize considerably. A dead adult in his 20s is generally worth less than one who is middle aged. A dead woman less than a dead man. A single adult less than one who's married. Black less than white. Poor less than rich. The perfect victim is a white male professional, 40 years old, at the height of his earning power, struck down at his prime. And the most imperfect: well, in the calculus of personal injury law, a dead child is worth the least of all.
  • The odd's of a plaintiff's lawyer winning in civil court are two to one against. Think about that for a second. Your odds of surviving a game of Russian roulette are better than winning a case at trial. 12 times better. So, why does anyone do that? They don't. They settle. Out of the 780,000, only 12,000 or 11/2% ever reach a verdict. The whole idea of lawsuits is to settle, to compel the other side to settle. And you do that by spending more money than you should, which forces them to spend more money than they should, and whoever comes to their senses first loses. Trials are a corruption of the entire process and only fools who have something to prove end up ensnared in them. Now when I say prove, I don't mean about the case, I mean about themselves.
  • I can appreciate the theatrical value of several dead kids. I mean, like that. Obviously, that's good. That is all this case has going for it. That's not enough. Get rid of it.

Jerome Facher[edit]

  • [to law students] Now, the single greatest liability a lawyer can have is pride. Pride... Pride has lost more cases than lousy evidence, idiot witnesses and a hanging judge all put together. There is absolutely no place in a courtroom for pride.

James Gordon[edit]

  • [to secretary] Every credit card application we send in, we get two more in the mail. Here's one from some bank I've never heard of, in North Dakota. Fill it out. Fill them all in. It's the last great pyramid scheme in America.


Jerome: What's your take?
Jan: They'll see the truth.
Jerome: The truth? I thought we were talking about a court of law. Come on, you've been around long enough to know that a courtroom isn't a place to look for the truth.

Al: You've never been here before? What kind of Harvard man are you?
Jan: The Cornell kind.

James: [regarding the case and the following settlement] Mrs. Anderson, you're looking at four guys who are broke. We lost everything trying this case.
Anne: How can you even begin to compare what you've lost, to what we've lost.

James: [seeing Uncle Pete for another loan after Schlichtman's firm is in serious financial trouble] You'll never guess what I did last night. You'll like this. I pledged $200.00 to a tele-evangelist. I'm not kidding. He said, "Give and ye shall receive." I called him right up. I know, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Gordon's losing it. He's falling apart. He's probably buying lottery tickets." I bought a few, I'll admit it. I know. But seriously, the jackpot's $45 million. That's just this week. You should see the lines out there.
Uncle Pete: [nods to a bugle in Gordon's pocket] Is that a gun?
James: What? This? No. No, this is for you.
[pulls a bag from his pocket and empties it, spilling out gold coins]
James: My Krugerrands. I've had them forever. I want you to have them. And... this is the deed to my house. And here is Conway's and Crowley's and Jan's. See? I come bearing gifts. We really need the money.


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