Anderson, et al v. Pacific Gas & Electric Company, Superior Court for the County of San Bernardino, Barstow Division, File BCV 00300 (1993) Christine K. Horold
The movie Erin Brockovich (2000) depicts one of the most recognized cases of toxic tort cases in the United States. According to an article in Entertainment Editors “a toxic tort is a special type of personal injury lawsuit in which the plaintiff claims that exposure to a chemical caused the plaintiff’s toxic injury or disease” (freelibrary web site, 2000)
In the movie Erin Brockovich, played by Julia Roberts, is assigned to do some research on pro-bono case her employer Ed Masry is handling for the small town of Hinkley (located in San Bernardino Valley. Residents of this small town located outside the Pacific Gas & Electric plant are suspecting that a chemical, especially hexavalent chromium (Chromium 6), is causing the people in this town to be ill. Many people had chronic, unexplained illnesses, and early death; many of them were children. In addition, almost everyone in Hinkley was either currently or previously employed in the nearby PG&E plant. I need to mention that PG&E paid all medical expenses of anyone who became ill in the Hinckley vicinity. Ms. Brockovich consulted with an expert on chemicals at UCLA, and thereafter examined many old records at the Regional Water Board. During this research she discovered that a cleanup and abatement order to PG&E was issued, it required the company to remove hexavalent chromium because it was contaminating the groundwater in that area. So she took it upon herself to obtain some water samples and after the Professor at UCLA examined the papers as well as the water samples he concluded that the levels of chromium in the water supply were indeed responsible for the illnesses, and cancers the town folks were experiencing. Eventually it was determined that PG&E was the responsible party and was ordered to pay $333 million dollars in damages. Does it end here? Of course not because PG&E had several lawsuits filed against its company thereafter, and all of them have been settled, the last case in April 2008. Analogy
I remember watching the movie and I like everyone was amazed how the tenacity of an untrained legal clerk uncovered such wrongdoing by a $9 billion dollar company. I never imagined that I would have to analyze and discuss this movie in a law class at a later date. Naturally, I had to see the movie again to remember all the details, it has been a while since I saw it last. The questions raised by the topic requirements prompted me to do additional research to confirm the accuracy of my analogy. The movie clearly shows that Pacific Gas & Energy was the culprit because the company deliberately covered up its wrong doing for at least 25 years. According to an article by Joseph Ascenzi, PG&E knew of the contamination of its discharged water it had dumped into unlined ponds since 1965, yet company officials chose not to disclose this information even though the company is required by state law to do so (Ascenzi, J., 2000).
Ms. Brockovich discovered this information, first by finding out what type of chemical was used to contaminate the water, second by researching the records at the Regional Water Board, third by taking water samples, and forth having an expert at UCLA analyzing the records as well as the water samples. This evidence clearly established that the levels of chromium 6, which is highly toxic and carcinogenic, had this devastating effect on the community (benecke web site, 2002).
Even though PG&E covered all the medical expenses of the company denied any wrong doing. The challenges and obstacles the law firm representing the plaintiffs came in form of establishing whether or not the corporate office had knowledge prior to 1987 and chose not to do anything about it. In addition, in order to use...