Winston Churchill once said “A lie gets half way around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Unfortunately this is the case with the civil justice system. If you are an HBO subscriber, the new documentary “Hot Coffee” is definitely worth taking the time to watch. The documentary, made by Susan Saladoff, takes a look at tort reform in America, and provides a look into the other side of the argument of so called “frivolous,” lawsuits. “Hot Coffee” tells the story of four families who have been left emotionally and financially devastated by caps on punitive damages and mandatory arbitration. It also seeks to dispel the myth that American courts are currently flooded with “frivolous” lawsuits.
One of the main stories of the documentary is the lawsuit of Stella Liebeck, better known as the woman who sued McDonald’s over burns she received from a cup of coffee purchased from the restaurant chain. This is the lawsuit that everyone seems to use when they use the term “frivolous” lawsuit. What the documentary points out is that McDonalds and other corporations used this case by twisting the facts to promote tort reform, claiming that this was a ridiculous lawsuit, and turning Ms. Liebeck into the punch line of jokes all over the country. In reality Ms. Liebeck was a 79-year-old woman who was burned so severely while attempting to put cream and sugar in her cup of coffee that she required skin grafts. When Ms. Liebeck brought the suit she was only attempting to cover the difference in her medical cost and what Medicare was paying. On top of that, McDonalds had already received over 700 complaints of coffee burns that they were keeping at between 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit, but these are the details that McDonalds managed to keep out of the media all these years to promote their own interest.
Ms. Saladoff says she made the documentary because she wants people to be empowered to take our justice system back. She believes that the American civil justice system has been hijacked by groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who are only concerned with the economics of big business interest, and have no concern for the public at large. Saladoff has also created a Hot Coffee “Take Action” page, for people feel strongly about her film, where she shows many things you can do to fight against corporate interest trying to take away American’s rights in the civil justice system.
Regardless of your feeling on tort reform, the documentary is a thought provoking look into the other side of the tort reform argument that is rarely heard by the American public. Here at the Persons Firm we are thankful that Ms. Saladoff took the time to tell this powerful story.