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A Critique of the Film Erin Brockovich


In the film ‘Erin Brockovich’ the researcher utilizes survey as the main method of data collection. The technique is mainly used for the collection of qualitative data. Little emphasis is given to quantitative data. No research method can be said to be 100 percent perfect. However, for a research to be considered successful, minimum shortcomings should be identified in the method used to gather data. A lot of criticisms and ethical issues have been raised concerning the process of data collection although the researcher in the film achieves her goals.


There is a wide range of data collection methods. Neither of these methods is 100 percent effective with each of them having its share of pros and cons. Survey research is one the methods used for data collection (Panacek, 2008). It is used to assess emotions of a person. This paper aims at critiquing the film ‘Erin Brockovich.’ More emphasis has been put on the methods of data collection used by the characters. The researcher’s ability to conduct a needs assessment has also been critiqued. Ethical implications of the researcher’s actions have also been put into focus.

Methods used by the Characters to Gather Data

In the film ‘Erin Brockovich,’ Erin is the main character (Grant, 2000). Jobless and having lost a lawsuit involving a car accident, she demands a job from her lawyer, Ed Masry, who she blames for having lost the case. She finally gets a job at the law firm and begins working on a case involving Donna and the Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) (Grant, 2000). Apparently, the multinational energy company is offering to buy Donna’s home.

She assesses documents that had been previously prepared by her boss and realizes that Donna had been diagnosed with several tumors and seeks to investigate further. She mainly used two methods of data collection for the purpose of gathering information relating to the case. To begin with, she interviews the residents of Hinkley, California. She also assesses secondary data mainly from documents she receives from a PG&E employee and medical reports from her interviewees. It is worth noting that the collected information is mainly qualitative, although her survey collects valuable information that helps in the settlement of the case.

There lacks quantitative data to back up the allegations made against the company concerning water pollution (Forbes & Smith, 2007). For instance, no numerical values have been given to show the extent of pollution as a result of the chromium used by the company.

How the researcher Conducted a Need Assessment

Erin concludes that the deteriorating health of the Hinkley residents is as a result of the contamination of underground water with carcinogenic chromium after conducting the research (Grant, 2000). She feels that there is a need for the company to compensate them for having caused the health problem. However, she has to prove that PG&E has been using hexavalent chromium that has had a carcinogenic effect on the population.

She, however, cannot quantify the effect the chromium has on the residents, a situation that makes it impossible for her to arrive at a definite figure to be paid by the company as compensation. The researcher also failed to consider the fact that not all people were also willing to demand compensation. Her investigation is also without the consent of her boss, a situation that sees her lose her job for a while.

How Need Assessment was used to obtain Information

The need to ensure that Hinkley residents were compensated made Erin make visits to the area residents where she interviewed to establish to what extent the contamination had impacted on the poor health of the community (Grant, 2000).

Having assessed the damage, she realizes that a legal suit would be a long process. The management would also intentionally delay compensation. Having thought over the matter, she decides to a deposition by binding arbitration against the PG&E management for the compensation of the residents. She, however, requires a large number of signatures from the residents in order to proceed with the move. In her effort to collect the signatures from the residents, she is handed documents by a PG&E employee containing evidence that indeed the management was aware of the contamination the company was causing (Grant, 2000). However, not all residents are willing to sign since they feel grateful to PG&E for providing them with health services.

Ethical implications of the Researchers Actions

Erin’s decision to investigate the case is ethical (Forbes & Smith, 2007). After being employed in a law firm and assigned to the case, it was her responsibility to gather information that would help her boss win the legal suit. Her actions are ethical since she looks into the interests of her boss’s clients. However, Erin’s actions are unethical when she fails to inform her employer that she was investigating Donna’s case. Legal procedures are strict, and any violations would have lead to the loss of the case.


Erin is the main character in the film ‘Erin Brockovich.’ When offered a job by her former lawyer Ed, a case file involving Donna and PG&E is handed to her (Grant, 2000). She embarks on an investigation to establish the facts concerning the case. To gather information, she looks into documents she acquires from a PG&E employee and also interviews Donna together with other Hinkley residents.

Though her efforts bear fruit when the company is ordered to compensate the residents, the methods she uses to collect data are questionable (Forbes & Smith, 2007). She fails to inform her boss of her undergoing investigation a situation that could have interfered with the case. Data gathered is also mainly quantitative. The researcher fails to provide quantitative data to support her allegations against PG&E.


Forbes, J. B., & Smith, J. E. (2007). The potential of Erin Brockovich to introduce organizational behavior topics. Organization Management Journal, 4(3), 207-218.

Grant, S. (2000). Erin Brockovich: the shooting script. New York: Newmarket Press.

Panacek, E. (2008). Survey-based research: performing the survey. Air Medical Journal, 27(2), 64-66.

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