McDonald's Case Critics Feeling Burned by "Hot Coffee"

In March, we told you about the Sundance Film Festival featuring attorney Susan Saladoff’s legal documentary "Hot Coffee," which now is the subject of a national media blitz after being been picked up by HBO as part of the network’s summer documentary series. The HBO slot is sure to bring more attention to the movie’s subject of "frivolous" lawsuits and the infamous McDonald’s "hot coffee case." Although many critics have taken a positive view of the film, others are using their reviews to take lawyer-bashing to a whole new level.

"Hot Coffee" draws its name from the lawsuit decided nearly 20 years ago where grandmother Stella Liebeck sustained severe burns from a spilled cup of McDonald’s coffee. The jury verdict of nearly $3 million became a punch line for television comedians and a flashpoint for tort reform interests who claimed the award was evidence of a jury system gone haywire. In "Hot Coffee," Saladoff uses the Liebeck story and interviews about three other lawsuits to make the case that the tort reform movement has created a negative impact on the country’s justice system.

The fact that the documentary takes an advocacy position has expectedly ruffled feathers among tort reform advocates, who label the film as "propaganda." What comes as something of a surprise is how some media outlets are using their reviews to push the "anti-lawyer" sentiment. The Miami Herald levels some of the sharpest barbs against the legal profession, calling the film an "unpaid advertisement for personal-injury attorneys and their eternal quest for jackpot justice."

As we pointed out in our earlier piece, almost all the commonly-accepted "facts" about this case are wrong or misleading. Maybe that’s why critics are so incensed about "Hot Coffee" – they’ve had the microphone all to themselves for entirely too long.


Posted: 7/14/2011 1:58:32 PM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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