A documentary that uses the infamous Stella Liebeck – McDonald’s hot coffee case of the 90s to illustrate the increasingly restricted access to justice for ordinary Americans, is garnering rave reviews. For Indiana personal injury attorneys and indeed anyone who believes that big business in the United States have succeeded in limiting public access to civil justice, it’s beyond encouraging that people are responding to the truth.
The documentary, Hot Coffee begins with the truth about what happened to Stella Liebeck. Most people who have heard about the McDonald’s case, don’t know the half of it. Liebeck suffered severe third-degree burns when coffee from a McDonald’s cup spilt on her lap at a drive-through. She claimed $800 in medical expenses from McDonald’s, but the company refused to pay. Her lawsuit finally ended with a jury awarding her close to $3 million in damages, most of which were punitive damages. For most Americans, this is where the story ends. However, the fact is that another judge reduced the damages, and Liebeck finally settled with McDonald’s out of court for a much lower sum.
For years since that settlement, Liebeck has been used by big business as a symbol of all that is gone wrong with the U.S. justice system. Hot Coffee attempts to clear those misconceptions. The documentary follows four ordinary Americans, to illustrate how difficult it is for the regular Joe to get a day in court. From the parents of a child was severely brain-damaged by medical malpractice, to a woman who was raped while on duty in Iraq and found that her lawsuit was thwarted by her employers, Hot Coffee shows how big business, aided by the media, has done a great job of drumming up support for tort reform.
As any Indiana personal injury lawyer would tell you, if you support tort reform and restricted access to justice for ordinary Americans, just pray that you are never injured.