While attending the Progressive Summit I stopped at a table and picked up a copy of the documentary film “Hot Coffee.” The HBO production begins with the massive PR saga launched by McDonalds against an elderly woman who received third degree burns from their coffee. The incident in Albuquerque led to a $2.9 million jury verdict (then struck down by a judge to much less) and has been the poster case for tort reform activists ever since. What you don’t know is that she wasn’t driving or even drinking the coffee. Seated in a nephew’s car while parked she was simply taking the cap off to add cream and sugar. McDonalds served its coffee at temperatures between 180 and 190 degrees (since the suit they’ve lowered it ten degrees). This is as hot as the antifreeze gets in your car’s radiator.
The film goes on to show how the corporations and their front groups have used this and similar worthy litigation to misinform the public and brainwash them into abandoning their right to hold corporations accountable for negligence. McDonalds had received over 700 complaints about their hot coffee prior to Stella Liebeck’s severe injuries. They chose not to do anything and even after losing this lawsuit did very little. I know that after I learned the true nature of the litigation years ago I swore never to buy coffee at McDonalds and I never have. Of course I generally eat at fast food places rarely.
“Hot Coffee” goes on to document the laws passed at state levels to restrict citizens access to the courts in the name of reform. Then it goes to how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the lobbying and campaign operation of big business, went about buying state Supreme Court judges who would uphold these unconstitutional laws. It then tells two stories, one about a teenager with severe brain injury due to a doctor’s negligence and how Nebraska tort reform screwed him. A young woman tells her tale about working for Halliburton in Iraq and getting raped then locked in a cargo container. Because her employment contract mandated company approved arbitration she was denied her day in court.
“Hot Coffee” is a well done, well researched and well told tale of how Big Business has bought off our right to sue them for intentional negligence. It’s a sorry tale and an example of how corporate media brainwashes stupid Americans into relinquishing our rights. If anyone wants to watch the movie ask me for my copy.