2011, Movies

Hot Coffee (2011, Susan Saladoff)

Full disclosure: I was once a drinker of the “frivolous law suits” koolaid and, if I am not mistaken, I may have even mentioned in my first book that I thought judges should make decisions on “non economic” damages in civil suits.

I haven’t thought much about this issue over the last few years, but I would say that I probably still leaned against juries awarding damages. If I was still leaning that way, or on the fence, this movie changed my mind. And that, in itself, is an accomplishment.

The film isn’t so much about the iconic “McDonald’s coffee” lawsuit – and its misrepresentation in the media – as it is about money encroaching into politics and, in this case, into the civil justice system of the United States. That system is already a little odd for us Canadians – we don’t elect our judges and personally I am glad of that – but it seems to be getting increasingly corrupted by moneyed interests, specifically the very people liable to get sued if they do something wrong – make a mistake, release a bad product, etc.

The film lays out four cases – the coffee suit is only the first – where the civil justice system has failed people and where either the system itself, or the media and PACs, has deemed these people “jackpot justice” seekers. This is alarming stuff, and it is a must watch film, especially for anyone who believes in “Tort Reform” or believes in limiting “frivolous lawsuits.”

The film is far from perfect however. It suffers from a lack of hard evidence in a number of places – like so many documentaries we have to take the experts’ word rather than see real evidence – and the scene with Al Franken is grandstanding that really doesn’t convince. (Though it apparently did convince his fellow politicians…) Also, there’s a little too much “man on the street” stuff – though I understand why that stuff is in the film.

But on the whole the film is important and well worth your time.


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