“Erin Brockovich” is a film that depicts the true story targeting the largest direct action lawsuit in US history. The case is fully investigated by Erin Brockovich, played by Julia Roberts, a single mother of three kids who leads the community of Hinkley to victory over Pacific Gas and Electric Company.
PG&E has a plant in the Hinkley area and without lining their ponds, groundwater contamination spread to the water supply of much of the community. As a result, many families were stricken with serious illnesses, miscarriages and more because the water supply became contaminated with hexavalent chromium, an extremely toxic chemical.
Erin Brockovich, an opinionated, outspoken woman who never ceases to speak her mind, had recently lost a case with her lawyer and in return, demanded a job from him to pay her bills. Upon getting hired by her lawyer, Ed Masry, played by Albert Finney, Brockovich begins investigating the reason why a file from a family in Hinkley had their real estate documentation combined with their medical bills. Her investigation eventually leads to the unethical and unlawful situation with PG&E and how this large corporation lied to the Hinkley community.
This film represents the real truth about the power of corporations and even other companies when lying or only speaking half the truth to maintain sustainability and make a profit.
A major ethical dilemma that poses as a prevalent issue in the film is the deceitful nature by PG&E. The corporation is a billion-dollar powerhouse that is fully aware of the level of toxicity contaminating the water. However, it takes every precaution to cover up its tracks and not have to face a legal issue such as the case Brockovich investigates.
Upon lying, the company tries to perceive itself as caring and supportive by informing the wrong information which they are fully aware of—chromium 3 is a good chemical they assure is in the water. However, hexavalent chromium 6 is the actual substance used and can cause a number of harmful side effects that can ultimately lead to death. To add to this, PG&E even pay for medical visits to those doctors who also only give a portion of the truth.
The citizens begin thinking they are not at risk whatsoever when in reality everything is a scam to keep the truth hidden.
The ethical issue here is clearly lying, whether it is a little white lie or something much larger. For the most part, society is aware that lying is the ‘wrong’ thing to do, yet many of us do it anyways. In some cases, the repercussions are much more severe than others.
Although lying can be detrimental on an individual level, what about when it involves a business—in this case a major corporation which in any case can be intimidating to question?
If a major corporation is lying, it is likely that some, if not all employees are aware of its unethical behavior, but to question that could possibly result in job loss and other unwanted complications. And who are these employees— just regular everyday people who are probably working to support a family and simply make a living. Why must they be bombarded with having to choose to be ethical in the workforce (particularly this issue) when it should be the company’s responsibility in the first place?
Another unethical issue presented in the film is portrayed in the beginning when Brockovich is hit by a doctor who sped running the red light as she crossed the intersection following a green light. Eventually as the case goes to trial, Brockovich is judged by her two divorces and three kids. The doctor is then given the benefit of the doubt as his lawyer persuades the jury that a single-struggling mother would most likely target someone who has money to assist with her financial hardships.
The doctor had to be fully aware of what exactly happened and that Brockovich was in fact telling the truth. However, he had to save his own self and chose to act unethically by having his lawyer prove something that he knew was false.
It is important and can even be inspiring to see that aside from going up against a well-established company, Brokovich and Masry decided to dive into what could be a nightmare. Masry was aware of the possibility that his small firm could delve into loads of paperwork and other issues that could ultimately lead him to bankruptcy. Masry weighed out much of the possibilities and realized that although this case would be an extremely complex situation, he wanted to do it—partly because of Brockovich, yet also because he wanted to help the Hinkley community. Masry acted ethically on his part to overlook what could affect him personally and do something that could potentially help the greater good.
On the other hand, Brockovich acted ethically by also devoting herself to her work and those in need. She consequently sacrificed time away from her kids and spent hours on end working tirelessly to establish a close-knit relationship with Hinkley. Although this was part of her job, she realized that she was dealing with people’s lives and this meant something. She decided to do everything in her power to help them and make PG&E succumb to the consequences of their irresponsibility.
One fallacy committed in the film can be the appeal to authority fallacy. In one scene, a young man who represents PG&E comes in response to the newly questionable information investigated by Masry and Brockovich. The representative comes to offer one of the Hinkley families two hundred fifty thousand dollars for their home- more than double the worth of the home.
Masry states that this sum of money may seem substantial but that will not nearly cover the costs and fees of medical bills the family will eventually deal with.
The man then states he is only authorized to offer that amount of money, but seems as though he is not too sure of himself; he is only going with what his employer told him without thinking for himself. This representative appealed to his bosses of PG&E but clearly did not think to question if this was right or even ethical. Although yes, he was representing on behalf of the company, he as an individual could have done more to not simply appeal to authority.
Of course this would be taking a chance with his own career, which Masry and Brockovich also did, it would by risky yet feasible.
Another fallacy committed would be evading the issue. Once PG&E were questioned about the chromium in the water supply, they could be seen as evading it by supporting their argument with the fact that they told Hinkley chromium 3 was in fact in the water. They lied, however, and consciously gave the wrong information by saying chromium was good for the people, when in reality, toxic chromium 6 is what ran through the water supply.
In this case, the situation seemed like it was being addressed when in reality, the truth that PG&E was fully conscious of was not being dealt with.
In addition to evading the issue, the fallacy of suppressed evidence corresponds. PG&E did suppress evidence to prove its point. Although they were not suppressing evidence of the opposing side, they did it to cover their argument up and reflected the issue of slighted evidence.
The Real Masry and Brockovich