Susan Saladoff's documentary Hot Coffee debuted this year in the Sundance Film Festival and premiered on HBO last night. It is about the tort reform movement in the United States and the public's perception of various aspects of personal injury lawsuits. I urge everyone to watch this documentary. You can view it on another broadcast date in the coming weeks or download from HBO On Demand. If you have not seen the film yet (without giving it all away), here are a few topics that were covered.
- Of course, the McDonald's hot coffee case. Many people believe this case involved a woman who spilled coffee in her lap while driving, sustained little to no injury, and recovered millions. There are sure to be a few facts in the documentary that will surprise you.
- Caps on damages and their impact on tax payers. The Gourley family in Nebraska tells a heartbreaking story about their son who was catastrophically injured by medical malpractice only to have his jury award capped, relegating him to public assistance for his care.
- Chamber of Commerce: who they really are and what they really do.
- Attacks by corporate campaigns on state judicial elections and legislatures, and the import of the jury system.
- Gym, credit card, and employment waivers (including mandatory arbitration clauses), their (un)avoidability, and how they affect the severely injured. Former KBR/Halliburton employee Jamie Leigh Jones waited six years to get before a jury after being drugged, raped, and placed in a shipping container while working in Iraq.
Though this documentary is not perfect, it is very informative overall and a big step in the right direction. The Hot Coffee "Take Action" website has some great advice that can be utilized by people on both sides of the debate in light of the lack of public education and media attention to these issues. Regardless of whether you are for or against tort reform, the battle is best when well informed.
By Kathleen Beatty