Term Paper: Law Movie Analysis and Research Silkwood

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Law Movie Analysis and Research

Silkwood like many other movies, e.g. The Insider, Erin Brockovich, Norma Rae, deals with the problems of corporate America, a greedy, corrupt, criminal corporate America that exists only for the quick profit and would do anything and everything to make more and more money. The employees, consumers and people living next to the industries are the ones who pay the price for corporate America with their lives and health and this is a very high price to pay for the welfare of others.

Silkwood is a disturbing movie that raises the signal and makes one think long and hard about the world he is living in, especially because it is all based on a true story and nothing raises awareness more than this. The atmosphere and the script are so realistically created that at first the film comes across as being a horror story and then it strikes you: this is real, this woman was killed, this woman was tortured, this woman was infested and it did not happen on the other side of the world, it happened here in our back yard.

In short, the movie is the story of Karen Silkwood, a woman who was a chemical technician at the Kerr-McGee's plutonium fuels production plant in Crescent, Oklahoma. She discovers unsafe working conditions at the plant and becomes exposed to plutonium. She starts to investigate the breach of safety conditions at the plant and the possible plutonium exposure and starts gathering evidence for the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers' Union. However she soon dies in a car accident. The car crash takes place under very suspicious conditions and that is why we can consider the possibility that her employers were involved in her death. Thus the only witness and the only person brave enough to speak up against the breach in labor safety regulations is gone and there is nobody to put a stop to the injustice. The movie benefits from the great performance of Meryl Streep who received an Oscar nomination for the part and the ones of Kurt Russel and Cher.

The real story of Karen Silkwood is a bit more complex than the one told in the movie. After her death her relatives brought Kerr-McGee's plutonium fuels production plant to court in a civil case for the inadequate health and safety conditions at the plant that led to her contamination. In 1979 the Court of first instance ruled in favor of the claimants and awarded them $10.5 million for personal injury and punitive damages. In the appeal, at the Federal Court of Appeals, Denver, Colorado, the damages awarded were of $5,000 for the personal property of Karen Silkwood lost during the inspection for plutonium and decontamination of her apartment. In the meantime, in 1975 the Kerr-McGee's plutonium fuels production plant closed.

Twelve years after Karen Silkwood's death, in 1986, the case benefited from a retrial, however it did not end up in front of a court and it was settled for the amount of $1.3 million. It seems that there was more to the story and some new evidence had surfaced in the case as the media of the time reported. There allegedly were ample pieces of evidence that Karen Silkwood had been deliberately contaminated with plutonium, only to be murdered some days later. The accusations from the trial had gone even further. It was alleged that Karen Silkwood had discovered a large conspiracy which involved a number of U.S. public institutions regarding a network of international plutonium smuggling. The Kerr-McGee's plutonium fuels production plant was supposed to be a part of this great conspiracy.

The main legal issue behind this movie, besides first degree murder, torture, human rights violation and so on, is the tort liability. The movie may not seem to hold a real legal interest or importance because the trial is not shown, there are no lawyers or judges to guide us through a difficult case like in other legally relevant pieces of cinema. However, Silkwood is a tort film because it involves the liability of a nuclear power plant in a similar way with other tort movies. It is a civil action movie because as it indirectly deals with a civil case arising out of the actions of the Kerr-McGee's plutonium fuels production plant. The trial does not have the state as a party as in the criminal law movies. The two parties are private: the plant as a legal entity and the relatives of Karen Silkwood as natural persons.

The story behind the movie challenges the integrity and practices of an industry, that is why Silkwood has been sometimes considered more of a conspiracy movie that a tort one like a Civil Action, the classic in the field.

The conspiracy movies are usually based on the fact that there is an agreement, silent or not, between the media, the courts, the governmental agencies that would normally deal with such issues and the guilty industries themselves which are hazardous to the health of the public and of their employees. The agreements have a single scope: great profits and nothing must come between them and the money. The law usually becomes inapplicable in this kind of situations because, at least locally, the institutions that were supposed to enforce the law are party to the conspiracy. As the law is surpassed, it all turns into a social action. However, in the case of Karen Silkwood the conspiracy might have existed, but it has not been proved. When the possibility of the revealing allegedly arose in 1986, the case was settled; therefore the public could not get satisfaction and the parties of the conspiracy remained covered.

The civil case of tort law involved the negligence and the practices of the plant that were in violation of labor safety regulations. The plant failed to measure up to the standards set by society by willful misconduct.

The relatives of Karen Silkwood, under the law of tort, were entitled to an action against the plant for personal and bodily injury. Liability is a subfield of tort law and it represents, in our case, the way to hold the plant accountable for the prejudices and injuries caused by the faulty safety protection. Negligence, which in this case was the failure or carelessness to use care and proper safety equipment for the handling of radioactive substances such as plutonium, needed to be proven in front of the court before the relatives of Ms. Silkwood could be awarded and collect damages from the court. The relatives could have been in this case entitled to two kinds of damages: punitive (as punishment for the negligence and misconduct of the plant) and compensatory (intended to cover the actual material loss: the destruction of the apartment and so on).

In the case of Karen Silkwood the relatives could have even brought a case under tort law against the very employees and managers of the plant responsible for the violation of the safety regulations. They would be liable as natural persons together with the plant as a legal entity. In my opinion, in this case criminal charges could have also been brought, however the state of Oklahoma seems not to have deemed that a criminal case exists.

The case of Karen Silkwood is very similar to the one of Erin Brockovich, which was subject to an even more famous movie that won Julia Roberts an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Erin Brockovich was a mother who worked for a lawyer's office and started a head to head legal battle with California's Pacific Gas and Electric Co. because of their failure to properly dispose of waste, which resulted into great damages to the health and lives of the people living next to the company, in Hinkley. There… [END OF PREVIEW]

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