“She brought a small town to its feet and a huge corporation to its knees.” This tagline indeed summarized the movie Erin Brokovich. The movie was about a not-so-privileged but strong willed woman who was able to impact and make a difference to the life of hundreds of people to a community.
Erin (Julia Roberts) was a woman who was out of a job, did not have a special training for anything, was divorced twice, and is a mother of three – 8-year old Matthew, 6-year old Katie, and 10-month old Beth. The movie started off with Erin persistently looking for a job but not getting hired. In the midst of all those problems, she got into a car accident and she was injured. She was then referred to a lawyer named Ed Masry (Albert Finney) who owned a small private firm. The lawyer promised her that they were going to get the guy responsible for what happened, but when Erin was in the witness stand, she snapped, lost her temper and used foul words. Because of that, the jury did not rule to her favor and as a result, she had nothing. She was in debt and she got nothing.
She knew she had responsibilities as a mother and she was desperate. So, what she did was went to the office of Ed Masry and demanded for a job. She did not leave the office without getting what she needed. This was an act of determination and at the same time desperation. She had nowhere else to go and she was so tired of being taken for granted (as being divorced twice). Mr. Masry then was caught up and had no choice but to give her a job. In the workplace, she was not liked by people particularly because of how she dressed. She always wore provoking clothes and it really was not work-appropriate. Also, she got her job in a not-so-good manner. However, she was not intimidated by these people and rather, just focused on her job. There was one scene when she asked her co-worker about something and her co-worker refused to help her. That scene proved how condescending her co-workers were to her. She was judged by how she looks and her social status.
Instead of getting swallowed by all those criticisms, Erin continued to stand up for herself and did her job. She then came across with a case file about real estate which confused her because there were medical records in the file. She thought, “What do these medical records got to do with real estate?” In other words, she simply got curious. She wanted to dig deep through the case and asked for permission from her boss to do so. She was granted permission and she went out of her way to research on the case. Most of the time, she was out of her office looking for information. Instead of getting rewarded for being a diligent employee, she ended up getting fired because she was always out of the office. She went to her boss and rant at him for doing what he did.
Her bills were piling up and then someone came ringing her doorbell. It was her former boss, Mr. Masry. He got curious about the case that Erin was researching and Erin took that advantage for her to be hired back to the firm. She even demanded for a raise and benefits. This shows that Erin is really strong-willed and would do just about everything to be a better mom.
Erin then told Mr. Masry about the case where Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) company was silently buying the real estate properties in Hinkley, California because they were dumping hexavalent chromium to the area which caused adverse effects on the health of the residents. There were reported deaths and a lot of residents had cancer and other related diseases. Erin found out about all these information by herself which means that she really is dedicated to what she was doing. At first, she was just doing her job, and then she had the real intent of helping the people from Hinkley.
So she was hired back, and she took extra time researching more about the case. She went door-to-door and talked to the residents about their condition and explained to them what was really causing their severe health conditions. She obtained water samples from the area and had it tested to gather for more evidence to back up the case. She went out of her comfort zone just to get what they needed for the case. She did all this without anyone forcing her to do so. She was simply dedicated and motivated by the cause of what she was doing.
Meanwhile, while everything is strenuous at work and at the same time going well, she was no longer able to spend as much time as she did with her kids. In the movie, Erin’s love interest was George who was also unemployed but who worked a full-time nanny for her kids. At first, Erin was hesitant with George because after what she’d been through, she had trust issues. After being divorced twice, that certainly is a legitimate response from Erin especially because they just met. Erin got caught up with her job that she didn’t realize that there still other stuffs that was going on with her job. She has a family. Then George asked her to choose between him and her job. She was way too far gone to just quit what she was doing. And she knew that what she was doing was worth fighting for. So she chose her job and George left her. But still, occasionally, when Erin needs him, he’d still be there to take care of her kids.
Aside from George, she also lost the time with her kids. From a mom who looked after them almost 24/7 to a mom who can barely focus to her kids as they eat dinner. Her eldest, Matthew, felt bad towards her and she needed to talk to him for him to understand what she was doing. There was also a heartbreaking scene in the movie where she was driving late at night on her way home and she was talking to George on the phone. George told him about Beth uttering her first word and hearing this just made Erin cry. She cried for two reasons – those were tears of joy because her youngest already had her first word which is a majestic event for a parent, but at the same time, those were tears of sadness because she missed one special event in her daughter’s life that she can never get back. These instances simply proved that Erin was also sacrificing a lot of her life in order to help the people in Hinkley. Aside from the long drives and tiring nights, she gave up time for her family to help people that weren’t even her family. Behind those provocative clothes and foul mouth that makes her seem like a very, very strong woman who will get whatever she wants is a fragile mom who gets hurt for missing important events in their life and at the same time, a caring woman who would do just about anything to help the people who are in deep need.
As they go on with the case, Mr. Masry was having cold feet because of practical and acceptable reasons. His firm was not a high-end firm capable of financing everything they need in order to build a strong case. And just when Mr. Masry was about to give up, Erin reminded her of the reason why they were doing all those things. Lives were at stake and lives can be changed. Erin focused on this reason which made her strong and persistent despite the challenges she faced as she continued with the case.
When they had enough evidence, they filed a lawsuit against PG&E. The judge ruled on their favor and decided that the case shall go to trial. This means that they should build an even stronger case, gather more evidence and have more plaintiffs which also mean more work and more expenses. Mr. Masry then decided to ask for help from Mr. Kurt Potter who was a good lawyer and who had means. He didn’t hesitate and covered for their expenses for the case.
As they go on with the case, PG&E requested that they submit to binding arbitration where the case will be tried before a judge without a jury. In binding arbitration, the decision of the judge is final and no appeals will be granted. Mr. Potter suggested that this is the best way to win because if they go to trial, PG&E could simply file an appeal year after year and prolong the case while the residents of Hinkley get nothing. However, before they go to arbitration, the plaintiffs must all agree. Usually, 70% of plaintiffs need to agree but in this case, PG&E required that 634 plaintiffs agree to arbitration. That is a dilemma. First, the residents were expecting a trial and not arbitration. Second, 634 people would have different view on the case which means it would really be difficult to get them to agree to a unified decision.
Knowing the dilemma at hand, Erin was not waivered and was even more persistent to make the almost impossible happen. Again, she was consistent and persistent. She gave her word to the residents of Hinkley that she will help them and she stand by her word. All her life, she wasn’t given much worth and she felt that at Hinkley. In that place, she was respected and loved by people. She gained the trust of the people. Not wanting to put that trust to waste, Erin did whatever it took to get the 634 plaintiffs to agree to arbitration. She even went door-to-door to complete the number and what she did paid off. With her determination and willingness to help, she did not give up and got all 634 papers signed by each of the plaintiffs.
In addition to that, Erin also found the smoking gun that they need. The evidence that ties PG&E in San Francisco and the one in Hinkley was the one they need in order to have the strongest case they can have and Erin found it and nail PG&E. A man who worked for PG&E in Hinkley approached Erin and told her about a document proving the PG&E in San Francisco knew what was happening in Hinkley. The man probably saw the sincerity of Erin in what she was doing. Technically, she didn’t even look for the evidence; it just came straight to her. In the end, PG&E paid a total of $333 million for medical expenses, damages and personal trauma that are to be distributed to the residents of Hinkley. With her perseverance, she was able to make life better for hundreds of people.
Erin was no expert in the law. In fact, she did not have any legal knowledge. However, she was curious, driven and dedicated to what she was doing. She showed genuine concern to the people she was helping. She went all out to fulfil what she started.
This time, Erin Brokovich continues to work for Mr. Masry in a bigger firm and she had a paycheck of $2 million for what she did. That’s a lot. However, the greater blessing that she received was the fact the she was able to help a lot of people. This was seen on her face as she told Ms. Jensen that the judge already came back with a number. She was happy for the people. Erin was motivated by love and willingness to help and not by selfish reasons which made her succeed in what she did. Considering that she is not a lawyer and she had a long list of limitations, she was able to complete what she started. She did not let her limitations hinder her from doing what she knows she can. In the midst of trials, she did not give up because she knew that a lot of people were relying on her. She knew that if she won’t go out of her way for these people, nobody would.
Overall, the movie was full of insights and lessons, not just on how to handle a case and build a strong one but also on how one should work with the right motives in mind. When she was working on the case, Erin did not know that she will make history in America. But she did. It showed that anything is possible for someone who is determined and persistent. It showed that more than the knowledge learned in institutions, the character and attitude towards work plays a very crucial and important role in every man’s success and endeavors.