civil action

A Civil Action

A Civil Action is a 1998 film, starring John Travolta (as plaintiff's attorney Jan Schlichtmann) and Robert Duvall, based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Harr. Both the book and the film are based on a true story that took place in Woburn, Massachusetts in the 1980s.

The real life case at the heart of the book and film is Anne Anderson, et al., v. Cryovac, Inc., et al.. The first reported decision in the case is at 96 F.R.D. 431 (denial of defendants' motion to dismiss).


Environmental toxins in the town of Woburn, Massachusetts contaminate the area's water supply, and become linked to a number of deaths of neighboring children. Jan Schlichtmann (John Travolta), a cocky and successful attorney who zips around town in his Porsche, and his small firm of personal injury lawyers are called upon to take legal action against those responsible.

After originally rejecting a seemingly unprofitable case, Jan finds a major environmental issue that has a lot of impact potential and a couple of defendants with deep pockets. A tannery production company could be responsible for several deadly cases of leukemia, but also is the main employer for the area. Jan decides to go forward against two giant corporations with links to the tannery, thinking it's another case that could possibly earn him millions, as well as a name for him and his firm.

With a class action lawsuit to file, Jan represents families who demand acknowledgment and an apology. However, it develops into a case that could ruin Jan and his firm. The lawyers of the leather company's parent company are not easy to intimidate, a judge rules against him, and soon Jan and his friends find themselves in a battle for mere survival.

Schlichtmann stubbornly declines several settlement offers, gradually coming to believe that the case is about more than just the money. But he allows his pride to take over, and decides that he must win at all cost. Pressures begin to take their toll, Jan and his associates going deeply into debt. The case is dismissed in favor of the one of the two defendants. Jan is forced to accept a settlement with the other that barely accounts for his expenses.

His own colleagues no longer wish to work for him and break up the firm. Later, on his own, Jan comes up with an idea that is able to win a settlement for the families, but his life remains in shambles. He ends up alone, filing for bankruptcy.



The music score was written by Danny Elfman.

Other songs include:


  • MPAA: Rated PG-13 for some strong language (certificate #36309)
  • Iceland:L
  • Argentina:13
  • Australia:M (original rating)/Australia:PG (TV rating)
  • Chile:14
  • Finland:K-12
  • France:U
  • Germany:12 (w)
  • Norway:7
  • Peru:14
  • Portugal:M/12
  • Spain:T
  • Switzerland:7 (canton of Geneva) /Switzerland:7 (canton of Vaud)
  • UK:15
  • Singapore:PG


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