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The book written byGerald M. Stern mainly focuses on one of his legal cases, which he was emotionally involved despite that he was the main lawyer representing the plaintiffs. The disaster took place on February 1972, whereby a dam owned by Pittston Company failed because of improper drainage measures following heavy rains. Following the dam breakdown, the valley became flooded, and it is claimed that approximately 125 people were killed, above 1100 were injured, and 4000 others were homeless. This disaster received much public attention because it affected mostly the women and children who perished while fleeing for their lives. After the disaster the Pittston Company issued a press release claiming that the disaster was an act of God. This was a major mistake made by the company, as it outraged the plaintiffs and, hence, became more determined to seek justice.
The plaintiffs approached Arnold & Porter law firm, and Mr. Stern who was working for this firm back then asked his superiors to appoint him for the case. Mr. Stern dug deep into the case to reveal what led to the disaster, the number of casualties, and the physical and psychological effects the disaster had on the survivors. It astonishes that after much digging, Stern came to find that the disaster could have been avoided if the Pittston Company had done some renovations on the dam’s drainage. It is also shocking that all along, the Pittston knew the dam had a drainage problem and did nothing about it. Despite that Pittston tried to settle with as many victims as they could by offering meager compensation, Mr. Stern was determined to see that the company paid dearly to the plaintiffs. With much help from the case’s judge K.K. Hall, the Pittston Company was forced to pay about 13.5 million dollars to the plaintiffs. However, Mr. Stern was disappointed that he did not manage to take the case to a public trial, which was the greatest fear of Pittston Company because it would destroy its public image and reputation.
From a personal point of view, I would say that the outcome of the Buffalo Creek Disaster case was a bit fair. This is because the Pittston Company, responsible for the disaster, was made to pay for the property loss, human loss, and other material damages. However, I feel that the Pittston Company should have paid more for human loss, the material damages, and misery it caused the survivors. At some point, I feel that the Company should have faced a public trial because it is evident that their negligence to repair the improper drainage system of the dam led to the disaster, which could have been avoided. Even though the compensation catered for property loss and damages, it could not revive the people who died from the disaster and could not wipe away the traumatic experience from the survivors’ memory.
From an ethical perspective, the conduct of Gerald Stern, the case’s Attorney is highly ethical. It is evident that after Stern realized the negligence of Pittston Company, he was emotionally involved and tried all his best in seeing to it that the plaintiffs received their justice. He goes ahead and interviews several survivors to examine the negative impacts the disaster had on them physically and psychologically. In his book, it is evident that his heart and feelings go out to the affected survivors. After realizing how psychologically tortured the survivors were, he has the urge to push on for the Pittston Company to pay more or face a public trial.
The conduct of the judge K.K Hall can also be termed ethical. The outcome of the case was mainly because of the fair rulings of Judge Hall. It is evident that the Pittston Company had tried many times to block the efforts of Stern, but every time judge Hall ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Hall gave the evidence brought to court by Stern before making his judgment. Not at any time did his conduct become unethical because of the influence of the Pittston’s Company. In fact, the judge left the case open for the attorney to decide whether to make the Company face a public trial or not, as he wanted the plaintiffs to obtain full justice.
The management of Buffalo Creek and that of Pittston is highly unethical. This is seen immediately after the disaster, where the Pittston Company is claiming the disaster is an act of God, when in fact, it had neglected renovating the dam’s drainage system. It is evident that the Pittston Company does not value human life because it only aims at protecting its public image and reputation. The conduct of the Pittston Company is unethical because it seems they do not feel responsible for the disaster. Even after Buffalo management notified the company that the drainage system was not in good condition, they did nothing about it because they did not consider human life as a top priority.
Clearly, the disaster was caused by negligence on the part of the company. It is common for firms or individuals to blame other things or people for their mistakes. Most of the times, such mistakes go unpunished, but here the case is different because the company bore the consequences of their negligence. On the other hand, the victims were compensated for the damage and, thus, justice was served. This reveals that the justice system here is ethical because it ruled fairly without favor.
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