Almost everyone knows of the McDonald’s coffee case. The case is repeatedly cited as an example of how citizens have taken advantage of America’s legal system.
The Hot Coffee movie reveals what actually happened to Stella Liebeck, the Albuquerque, New Mexico woman who spilled coffee on herself and sued McDonald’s, while exploring how and why the case garnered so much media attention, who funded the effort and to what end. In the film, filmmaker Susan Saladoff tells what happened to Liebeck after the case was decided. And as she explained to The Salt Lake Tribune, she made the film to change people’s perceptions about the lawsuit:
“If asked to name a frivolous lawsuit, most people would name the McDonald’s coffee case, believing that a woman was driving her car, spilled coffee on herself, was not seriously injured, and won millions of dollars. Every one of those [ideas] is incorrect. She was not driving; she was in a parked car; she suffered third-degree burns requiring skin grafting and surgery; the judge reduced the award to a fraction of the jury’s verdict; and then the parties settled for an undisclosed amount.”
Saladoff uses Liebeck’s story, along with the stories of three others, to explain that corporations are limiting people’s access to the court system by creating the perception that lawsuits like Liebeck’s are frivolous. The film is riveting, provokes laughter and tears, and highlights some of the problems our justice system has developed as a result of “tort reform.” The tort reform movement is a disservice to many in that it gives corporations power over individuals and their rights to trial.
The film simply expresses several somewhat complicated topics in an understandable and debate-provoking manner:
Caps on damages
Judicial elections funded by corporate interests
Public relations campaigns which have distorted the average citizen’s right to a jury trial when they are injured by another’s negligence.
The producer of the documentary, Susan Saladoff, had this to say about the film:
“The hope is that people are watching this film and getting angry and wanting to do something. Nobody wants to talk about mandatory arbitration. Nobody wants to talk about tort reform. These words are like blah blah blah, boring boring boring, until something happens to you or a family member or a close friend.”