Most people associate the Liebeck v. McDonald’s case, better known as “the hot coffee lawsuit,” with the very worst of our justice system: namely, frivolous actions brought by greedy plaintiffs with the hopes of winning the lawsuit lottery.
It is commonly believed that the plaintiff in Liebeck was a young woman who decided to sue Mickey D’s because while driving, she spilled her drive-thru coffee all over herself and sustained minor burns. This woman is usually not thought of as the sharpest tool in the shed, because she needed to be warned that her hot coffee would actually be hot and would burn her.
This woman was somehow able to convince a jury of her peers (who apparently weren’t that intelligent, either) that she didn’t realize her hot coffee would be so hot, so they decided to award her with a $2.7 million verdict.
This is the story that most people believe when they think of the hot coffee lawsuit, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. And thanks to this widespread misconception, Hot Coffee, a documentary film directed by Susan Saladoff, explains how corporations were able to promote the “evils” of tort reform….
Some tipsters were mad that we hadn’t spoken about Hot Coffee before the film was made available for home viewing:
Hot Coffee, a HBO documentary on PI law featuring the law suit against McDonalds is making big spins. No coverage?
What do I look like, a film critic? I don’t go to film festivals. Sorry bro, but I don’t have the street cred yet to get advance copies of films before they hit the TV.
Saladoff’s film draws in its audience by cashing in on on the little known facts of what actually happened in the Liebeck case. It turns out that Liebeck was a frail, 78 year old woman who was a passenger in a parked car when she opened the lid of her McDonald’s coffee to put cream and sugar in it.
And believe me when I say that this woman did not have minor injuries — no, she had second and third-degree burns all over her crotchal area. It was probably one of the grossest, most disgusting things I’ve ever seen. I don’t need to see an old lady’s groin ever again.
But after about 10 minutes of getting the real deal on the Liebeck case, Saladoff informs her audience that big business publicized the case in order to run a train on America with mass tort reform. How did that happen?
I mean really, who wouldn’t be in favor of tort reform? Who doesn’t enjoy delicious pastries and hoagie rolls?
Q: What’s a tort?
Older Woman: A tort is a pastry, as far as I know.
Older Man: Some type of funding that the federal government has done for bailout money, I believe.
Older Woman: I thought that was TARP?
Older Man: No, I think it’s tort.
Young Man #1: I have no idea what a tort is.
Young Man #2: A tort is a piece of… I think a tort is a piece of bread that looks like a hoagie roll, but isn’t a hoagie roll?
The rest of the film focuses on the stories of other Americans who were shafted by the tort reform system, either by damage caps they were unaware of, or by mandatory arbitration clauses they were forced to sign.
I legitimately felt bad for these people. Thanks to the stupidity of the American public who voted for tort reform, these innocent people got screwed. Hot Coffee made me want to go out and protest and do community service.
But then I remembered that Saladoff is actually a lawyer — a trial lawyer, to be exact. That seems like a pretty good reason to me to create a “propaganda” film about the “evils” of tort reform.
Abnormal Use, a products liability blog, remembered that fact, too, and had this to say about Saladoff’s motives in creating the film:
By using these tragic and sympathetic stories, Hot Coffee garners sympathy for the anti-tort reform movement while deflecting attention away from the fact that it is not just plaintiffs who benefit by opposing tort reform. Of course, trial lawyers like Saladoff benefit in the best of ways: financially. The larger the verdict for the plaintiff, the larger the payday for the trial lawyer. It is noble to stand up for those who may have been wronged, but don’t present yourself as a disinterested party and cloak yourself in the guise of pure altruism when doing it.
So, is Hot Coffee really just a way to entice the stupid American public into getting rid of tort reform so that trial lawyers like Saladoff can profit? Or does Saladoff actually care about the people who have been harmed by the tort reform measures that have been pushed through by big businesses?
You should probably watch Hot Coffee and decide for yourself.
Film Review: Susan Saladoff’s ‘Hot Coffee’ Documentary [Abnormal Use]
‘Hot Coffee’ review: HBO documentary finds big grounds for liability [New York Daily News]
Documentary Gives Hot Issue Caffeinated Jolt [New York Times]