Hot Coffee Case

Hot Coffee is a documentary that examines the so-called “hot coffee lawsuit” and asks ‘Is Justice Being Served?’  A woman sued McDonald’s after she spilled her coffee and burned herself. Hot Coffee is a major eye opener. Who knew that the McDonald’s coffee case wasn’t really a frivolous suit (McDonalds paid her secretly to shut her up). Who knew that “tort reform” was a successful plan by corporate interests to restrict citizens’ legal rights. The film starts with the most notorious case: the McDonald’s coffee spill, and shows how wrong the public perception is. Like so many others, I mocked the woman who sued McDonald’s over a spilled cup of coffee and what I thought must be minor burns; the facts as presented in Hot Coffee are eye-opening. I was surprised to see the news reporting the hot coffee story as if it was stupid — no wonder so many people have that idea. If they’d shown the pictures of the burns, most people would understand. All you have to do is look at the very serious injuries this lady suffered (shown clearly in the film) to see that her law suit was not frivolous. The popular view of what the case is about is entirely inaccurate; it is the product of lies by big business who would like to demonize anyone who seeks redress for corporate wrong-doing. This is a must-see documentary about the efforts by Big Business–led by the Chamber of Commerce–to deny Americans of their right to engage in civil litigation. Specifically looking at the reasons why the Chamber of Commerce invested millions to sway public opinion. And how these incorrect ideas are perpetrated and propagated by the corporations in their quest to prevent people from being compensated. Excellent doc. Makes a strong case, with loads of facts. Adds to the growing conclusion that the biggest problem with the country is the increasing and pervasive influence of corporations, which are trying to subvert the normal order of things and the rule of law. Depressingly real and not surprising, reminding us that people are sheep and pawns in the hands of big money interests — we are more willing to disbelieve a citizen’s motives than a billion dollar corporation. The government set up by our founding fathers is being perverted by corporations into an unrecognizable mess with the cooperation of both political parties. Sad.  I remember hearing about “tort reform” a number of years ago, when it was presented as a grass-roots effort trying to eliminate frivolous lawsuits. It’s not about frivolous lawsuits at all. Turns out it was spearheaded by big business to block our access to jury trial in civil cases – to limit how much a doctor, company or employer can be held liable for when they harm people. While pro-tort reform groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and McDonalds refused to be interviewed, it discloses that fact and includes archival footage of pro-tort reform testimony to tell the business/corporate side of the story. That said, the anti-tort reform side, more than willing to talk about the issue, comes across as more articulate, compelling and downright humanitarian. And it illustrates comprehensively the work done by pro-business advocates not only to deny the injured their day in court, but to flip the narrative and portray the victims of businesses as predators out to win the “lawsuit lottery,” and the judges and juries who preside over their cases as inept and corrupt. Wow! What an eye opener! I now have a completely different view about the “tort reform” that is being pushed by conservatives and big business. People across the country are losing their constitutional right to due process by signing mandatory arbitration contracts — and yet many who are crying about constitutional rights are totally unaware of this. Putting cap limits on punitive damages is free ticket for large corporations to continue making mistakes that damage the consumer but give the corporations a free ticket. If it is cheaper for corporations to pay the cap limit rather than defend themselves in court, what is their incentive to correct the error? Nothing. And almost all 50 states have this law in effect. This capping and forced arbitration is just a get out of jail free card for corporate America. The issues discussed in here are still alarming. I see that my state just passed the caps on compensation last year. My mother had an operation to remove a tumor from her neck. When it began to grow back after four years they went back in. They found a three inch piece of plastic tubing left in by the previous doctor. But because she lives in a state with cap limits, she barely got enough to cover medical costs and pain and suffering. The movie uses a few other case studies to put a human face on the suffering induced by corporations. The people interviewed are highly articulate and make their cases effectively. Another good technique is the on-the-street interviews of random people so we can see just how wrong and uninformed we are as a populace on these issues. While some might try to claim the doc is one-sided, the producers did invite the other side to participate, which they consistently declined.  The other case that hit me hard was the case of State Supreme Court Judge Diaz, who was targeted by big business for defeat–for not being sufficiently pro-business; he is a strong argument for why states should cease electing judges, particularly now that the Supreme Court has made the corruption of elections, by Big Money, so easy and so frequent. Who knew the dirty politics behind state judicial elections? The movie goes much further to see how Karl Rove launched entirely frivolous attacks on this honorable State Supreme Court judge in Mississippi, then a case of medical malpractice that was derailed, and how a young woman was brutally raped and sodomized by Haliburton employees and then denied her day in court. This film includes these personal stories to show how limiting access to our judicial system for ordinary people is turning us into a Third World Banana Republic. The Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, which was ratified as part of the Bill of Rights, codifies the right to a jury trial in certain civilcases, and asserts that cases may not be re-examined by another court. If you’re an American, then you must believe in the Seventh Amendment — which is at risk where money talks and citizens are out of luck. Hurrah for Senator Al Franken for pushing through legislation which will protect victims of big businesses like Halliburton. And hurrah for Susan Saladoff for having the courage to expose the way conservatives, big business and the Federal Chamber of Commerce are eroding our democracy. Karl Rove and rigged judicial elections. Limits on jury awards that shift the burden to the taxpayer. Fake citizens groups. Forced arbitration that can deny a rape victim her rights…the corporate interests have won big and we didn’t even know it was happening, at least until Susan Saladoff invited us to wake up and smell the hot coffee. Bravo Susan! This is a must-watch if you care about the stealth robbery of your legal rights. Susan Saladoff, a trial attorney herself, has put together a masterpiece explaining how powerful interests manipulate public opinion to take away individual rights. Even those who were hoodwinked understood how and why after seeing this film. It is very well-presented, educational, and not boring at all. The film got a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival. Great movie! Everyone needs to see this film. I am so glad that I did. It’s heartbreaking but eye-opening. Should be standard part of the curriculum in schools. This is a must-see for all Americans.  Documentary 2011 NR 89 minutes.


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