Any lawyer who has ever selected a jury for a civil trial over the last ten years has had to deal with the public’s reaction to the infamous McDonald’s coffee case. The public’s perception of that case was because of a masterful public relations campaign. I am reasonably sure every person has heard about this case since it became the classic example of a “frivolous lawsuit.” Anybody who read a newspaper or watched any television over the past decade has been bombarded with information about the case that was far from being truthful. I am reasonably sure that most folks now believe they know exactly what the McDonald’s case was all about. I suspect most see it now as a greedy woman who hit the jackpot. That is not at all true.
The Hot Coffee movie, which recently appeared on HBO, attacks the general perception of the McDonald’s case. It also goes much further into the tort reform debate. The movie gives folks for the first time an opportunity to reflect on their long-held beliefs about the American judicial system. It will make those who have been misled, wonder if their beliefs are valid.
Because of the success of the intense public relations campaign by the tort reformers, financed by tobacco, pharmaceutical and insurance companies, to name a few, many folks seriously believed our civil justice system wasn’t impartial and was actually unfair. Potential jurors were led to believe that a large verdict, regardless of merit, will have a bad effect on them and would cost them in their pocketbooks. Most voters seem to believe that we have a court system out of control and one that badly needs reforming. As a result, they voted against their own economic and social interests.
The force behind the movie project is Susan Saladoff from Ashland, Ore. Susan, as director and producer of the movie, spent 25 years practicing law in the civil justice system, representing injured victims of corporate wrongdoing. Susan stopped practicing law in 2009 and devoted her time to producing this documentary. She began her career as a public interest lawyer with Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, now known as Public Justice. This organization, for the last 25 years, has been at the forefront of keeping America’s courthouse doors open to all citizens. Susan explains the purpose of the film this way:
I wanted to tell the truth about how our civil justice system in the U.S. is being distorted by huge public relations campaigns funded by large corporations to limit people’s access to the court system. I used the McDonald’s coffee case as a springboard to tell that story.
The film premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and is making the Film Festival circuit to rave reviews. Hot Coffee opened on June 27th on HBO as part of the summer documentary series. Once you see the film, you will quickly see it’s not for lawyers. Instead it’s for ordinary folks, young and old, regardless of their political leanings. You can get a feel for what the movie is all about by going to hotcoffeethemovie.com. The trailer will make you want to see the movie. You can also find out where it will be playing and also place an order for a DVD which should be available by the fall of 2011. I recommend that everybody see this movie!
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