Ask people on the street to name America’s most famous legal case, and you’ll likely hear Roe v. Wade or Brown v. Board of Education. But ask people to name the most famous personal injury case in American history, and you’ll definitely hear about the lady who spilled McDonald’s hot coffee on herself and collected millions of dollars. The “hot coffee” case against McDonald’s became the prime example for frivolous lawsuits. Comedians from Seinfeld to Letterman made fun of the case. And the so-called “Stella Awards” for most outrageous lawsuits were named for the plaintiff in the hot coffee case, Stella Liebeck.
However, even though many people have heard of the case, they are not familiar with the details. Why is it that the jury awarded $2.9 million to Liebeck? Did McDonald’s have poor defense attorneys? And why did this case become so famous?
A new feature documentary, simply titled “Hot Coffee,” will explore these questions and more. The filmmakers say that the documentary will tell the story of what really happened to Stella. The filmmakers interviewed Stella’s grandson (who was the driver at the time of the incident), her doctor, the lawyers involved in the case, the quality assurance manager from McDonald’s, and the jurors.
“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,” said the filmmakers. “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.”
I look forward to watching this documentary. Screenings are expected to begin in 2010. The film is directed by attorney Susan Salandoff, who has spent the last 25 years practicing law and representing those injured by individual and corporate negligence.
If you’ve been injured by individual or corporate negligence, contact an experienced Georgia personal injury attorney immediately. Time is of the essence. Call MLN Law at 404-531-9700 to schedule your consultation.