Join us tomorrow night at the LandMark Theaters in Midtown for a screening of the documentary Hot Coffee. Contact Rebecca DeHart for more information.
From the website www.hotcoffeethemovie.com:
What’s the most famous legal case in American history?
Marbury v. Madison, Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade? Ask anyone in the U.S. or abroad and they will likely tell you about a woman who spilled coffee on herself and collected millions of dollars. The McDonald’s coffee case became the poster child for frivolous lawsuits in America. Jerry Seinfeld did an entire episode where Kramer sued Java World after spilling a café latté on himself while trying to get a seat in a movie theater. Jay Leno, David Letterman and other comedians have made the case the punch line for jokes; there are even the “Stella Awards” (for Stella Liebeck), given each year to the most outrageous and frivolous lawsuits. But if this case was so ridiculous, why did a jury award $2.9 million dollars to this 79 year old after a seven-day trial in 1994? Did McDonald’s not have good lawyers? And how did this case gain such notoriety and remain in the minds of so many people after so many years?
The McDonald’s coffee case has been routinely cited by the media as an example of how citizens have taken advantage of the legal system. In this documentary, you will learn what really happened to Stella, meet her grandson, who was driving the car, and hear from her doctor, the lawyers, McDonald’s quality assurance manager, and the jurors. Was the media’s portrayal of this case fair or was there an agenda by tort-reform groups to create a public perception that lawsuits were out of control. How did it become the poster child for tort reform, what is tort reform and how does it affect everyday Americans?
We will show how this case became so popular in the media (along with other examples of “frivolous” lawsuits), who funded the effort and to what end. We will interview political scientists, law school professors and consumer advocates who have spent years analyzing media coverage of the tort system and who controlled the message. We will show how the media was used and continues to be used for a political agenda to prevent access to the court system and immunize corporations from civil liability. We will educate the audience about caps on the amount of money that victims can receive in court in most states, how the federal government has enacted laws to prevent people from their day in court, and how the small print on credit card and real estate contracts, for example, prevent people from being able to get into the court system, denying access to justice. We will explore judicial races in states where tort reform measures have passed and then were later found unconstitutional by the State’s Supreme Courts. In many of these states there were major public relations campaigns established by tort reform groups to unseat pro-consumer justices and replace them with pro-business justices. We will interview representatives from the American Tort Reform Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (who even recently started a new website called “Faces of Lawsuit Abuse”) and even Phillip Morris, to find out what their involvement was in keeping this story alive and the motivations behind it.
We will let the audience decide who really profited from spilling hot coffee.