The Sweet Hereafter

In the small town of Sam Dent, British Columbia, a school bus hits a patch of ice, runs through a barrier and crashes into a lake, killing 14 children. The grieving parents are approached by an out-of-town lawyer, Mitchell Stephens, who is haunted by his dysfunctional relationship with his drug-addicted daughter. Stephens persuades the reluctant parents and bus driver Dolores Driscoll to file a class action lawsuit against the town and bus company for damages, arguing that the accident is a result of negligence in constructing the barrier or the bus.

The case depends on coaching the few surviving witnesses to say the right things in court, particularly Nicole Burnell, a 15-year-old paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the accident. Before the accident, Nicole was an aspiring musician and being sexually abused by her father, Sam.

One bereaved parent, Billy Ansel, distrusts Stephens and pressures Sam to drop the case; Nicole overhears their argument. In the pretrial deposition, Nicole unexpectedly accuses the bus driver Driscoll of speeding, halting the lawsuit given Driscoll’s lack of deep pockets. Stephens and Nicole’s father know she is lying but can do nothing. Two years later, Stephens sees Driscoll working as a bus driver in a city.