The McDonald’s “hot coffee case” (more formally known as Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants) many have heard at least some comment or tidbit about the now-infamous case. The reality, though, is that there are many misconceptions about it. Not surprisingly, there are even more misconceptions about an effort known as tort reform.

Tort reform gained popularity in the wake of the McDonald’s case, as many major US corporations and conservatives argued that the hot coffee case was an example of frivolous litigation. In the years that followed, tort reform played a major role in changing Americans’ views of the legal system. Even more, tort reform profoundly changed the American judicial system. 

A recent documentary called Hot Coffee premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and first aired on June 27, 2011 on HBO. The movie discusses the far-reaching impact of the McDonald’s case, perhaps the most well known lawsuit against a major fast-food chain in the US. The film sheds light on many of the most common and glaring misconceptions concerning the case. It reaches beyond the McDonald’s case to analyze the impact of tort reform on American society and culture. The film uses several intriguing cases studies to highlight how deeply the effects of tort reform have changed the American judicial system. The filmmakers skillfully wove the theme of the McDonald’s case into a more detailed analysis of the concept and effects of tort reform. 

For example, the film highlights the fact that few people realize that the US Commerce Commission is not a government entity but rather a private trade group representing many of the largest companies in America. The US Commerce Commission has, in recent years, spent millions of dollars in an effort to cap the amount of damages or money that a plaintiff can get in a lawsuit for personal injuries. The film includes interviews of experts on both sides of the issue, and several of the interviews are quite candid.

This documentary is a must-see for anyone who has any interest in basic American values. If you have even the remotest interest in justice and fairness, then you owe it to yourself to watch the film. It’s captivating, entertaining, and intriguing, and, perhaps best of all, it will leave you with more questions than answers. The film was directed by Susan Saladoff, who was a medical malpractice attorney for 26 years. Check it out, and I think you will be surprised at what you learn about tort reform.  

If you’d like to discuss tort reform in more detail, feel free to contact me here in my firm’s Marlton, New Jersey office.