Most of us remember that a woman sued McDonalds after spilling a scalding cup of coffee on herself, but most don’t know the truth - she got 3rd degree burns on 16% of her body including her genitals and there was a corporate PR effort to distort her story for “Tort Deform”.
I first read the truth about this story many years ago in Ralph Nader’s book “The Good Fight”. (I highly recommend the book which will get you fired up as you turn every page.) In it he describes how severe the injuries were to 79 year old Stella Liebeck. She spent 8 days in the hospital and had to get skin grafts. She sued to cover her medical costs.
Her lawsuit became a national story that was mocked and made fun of. The corporate media never told her side of the story, but a new documentary that just premiered at Sundance called Hot Coffee sets the record straight and exposes a multi-million dollar campaign to distort the story in an effort to push what consumer advocate Ralph Nader calls “Tort Deform” and corporate propagandist’s call “Tort Reform”.
McDonald’s policy was that there coffee was to be held at 187 degrees. And this wasn’t the first time they had been sued; they had been sued hundreds of times in similar suits.
In this interview the filmmaker Susan Saladoff describes what “Tort Deform” (I refuse to use term created by mind molding corporate propagandist) is and the effort to take away people’s constitutional rights to sue corporations or people that have harmed them.
SUSAN SALADOFF: There has been a huge public relations campaign over the last 25 years to convince the public that we have too many frivolous lawsuits, that we have out-of-control juries, that we need to change our civil justice system, which is our third branch of government, where an average person can go head-to-head with the rich and powerful, with corporations. And people have a completely distorted view of our civil justice system because of this public relations campaign. And I wanted to tell the truth. I wanted people to understand that they were giving up their constitutional rights every day to access the courts, and they didn’t even know they were doing it.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain tort. What do you mean by tort?
SUSAN SALADOFF: So a tort is a civil wrong. We have a criminal justice system and a civil justice system. We all know what the criminal justice system is. But when people are injured by a defective product or if they’ve had, you know, been the victim of a medical negligence, they have the right to go into a court system and bring a case against the person or the entity, the corporation, that harmed them. Those kinds of injuries are called torts. They’re civil harms.
The film focuses on four cases of corporate malfeasance.
In this interview they discuss the Chamber of Commerce’s effort to unseat judges that oppose “Tort Deform”.
In this interview they discuss how hard caps on malpractice awards shifts the burden onto taxpayers and away from the corporations that put profits over people and cause great harm to human beings without repercussions. (So much for the right wing “personal responsibility” crowd, they are the very people that support “Tort Deform”.)
We must spread the truth about this story far and wide. People need to know that our rights are being taken away by corporations that have become masters of deceit and whose influence on our political system continues to grow at alarming rates.
Hot Coffee is an important tool that we must use to fight back against these evil efforts to deceive the public and take away our rights. We must wake people up and lead the fight for justice and to shift the power from the corporations to the people. WARNING: President Obama has now jumped on the “Tort Deform” bandwagon!