I’ve written before about the excellent documentary Hot Coffee — The Movie. The subject of course is the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee case that has been so distorted by the proponents of tort reform. That case, or actually the false or misleading propaganda about that case, has done more to harm the civil justice rights of Americans than any other single incident or statement.
Now, almost a full year after the movie was shown on HBO, and after many accolades not only from consumer advocates but also from the film industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has decided this is a good time to mount a counter-attack. They have started by buying advertising on Web sites such as Google, in hope of leading people to watch their own film, which supposedly presents the other side of the story.
The problem for the Chamber is that their counter-arguments are filled with more misstatements. This fact was pointed out satirically and bitingly by the great blog ThePopTort. I urge you to read the article there to learn more about both sides of this issue. Then either buy, rent, or stream the movie. You will enjoy it, and you will discover that almost everything you thought you knew about this case is absolutely false.
Here is a description of the film from the official Web site:
The civil justice system has been under heavy attack for over 25 years.
Despite the fact that federal legislation has never been successful, big business interests have won in the hearts and minds of average people. They launched a public relations campaign starting in the mid-80’s and continuing over the last two decades to convince the public that we have out of control juries, too many frivolous lawsuits and a civil justice system that needs reforming. They have used anecdotes, half-truths and sometimes out and out lies in their efforts, for one purpose – to put limits on people’s access to the court system, the one and only place where an average citizen can go toe to toe with those with money and power and still have a shot at justice.
Because of the success of the public relations campaigns, paid for by tobacco, pharmaceutical and insurance companies, to name a few, our civil justice system is not impartial. Jurors have been led to believe that a large verdict will affect their pocketbooks. Voters believe that we have a court system out of control that needs reforming. Although there are consumer advocacy groups who have attempted to set the story straight, there has yet to be enough money to launch the kind of public relations campaign for consumers that can even begin to combat and challenge the public relations campaigns of pro-business and tort reform groups. Over the last few years, however, documentary films and independent film festivals have become a vehicle for alternative ideas to get a public forum.
Because almost everyone has heard about the McDonald’s coffee case, and most people believe they know what it’s about, this project has a fascination for people. Of course, we go much further into the debate than just the McDonald’s coffee case, but the case is a vehicle for people to think about their long held beliefs and whether they are valid. We think this movie has the potential, with the right funding and effort, to really change the way people think about our civil justice system and access to the courts.