USA, 2010, 88 min
Most will at least vaguely recall the infamous case of Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, in which a woman who spilled a cup of coffee on her lap sued the fast food conglomerate for over $2 million dollars. As depicted in the media, the 1994 lawsuit quickly became a nationwide joke. Moreover, the public outrage over the perceived legal frivolity was subsequently manipulated to help justify massive legal reform to favor big business. This larger legislative agenda, sold to the public as a means of protecting honest citizens from greedy individuals, had been underway since the 1980s, and its success has left the public less able to seek redress for corporate wrongdoing in court. The alarming facts of the case—including significant corporate misconduct and extensive physical injury—remained hidden. Starkly unraveling a history of corruption and self-interest, lawyer-turned-documentarian Susan Saladoff’s vital debut feature uses the cautionary hot coffee case—among several vivid examples of similar injustices, each one more frustrating and disturbing than the last—to expose a massive public relations campaign that has both facilitated and masked an effort to close off the one forum where average citizens have a fighting chance at holding corporations accountable to the law. Culminating with a travesty so appalling that it simply cannot be ignored, Hot Coffee cuts to the core of a corrupted civil justice system whose decay has been systematically orchestrated, and challenges us to do something about it.
Presented in association with Center for Investigative Reporting.