Documentary- “Hot Coffee”

Hot Coffee is a documentary released in 2011 that is based on the Tort Reform in the United States Judicial System. The title of this documentary is derived from the Stella Liebeck vs. McDonalds lawsuit in which Liebeck sued McDonalds after being severely burned from a cup of McDonalds coffee.


The film starts with interviewing people on the street about what they think about Liebeck suing McDonalds for getting burnt from coffee. Every person says that they think Liebeck was the one at fault and that she shouldn’t be suing the restaurant chain. I, like most people, would have agreed with these individuals ,until I watched this documentary. What most people don’t know is that 79-year-old Liebeck was in a car without cup holders in the passengers seat in a McDonalds parking lot, not driving or moving about. Also, the coffee was approximately 190 degrees, which is entirely too hot. To top it off, Liebeck’s injuries were so severe she had to have skin grafts and she only sued McDonalds to get help paying for her medical bills. When McDonalds refused to pay her medical bills she was forced to sue. From this lawsuit, McDonalds was forced to lower the temperature of their coffee and have better fitting lids on their coffee cups.


Next the documentary delves more into the Tort Reform, which are proposed changes to the judicial system, that would put a cap on the amount of money one could receive from damages from lawsuits and changes litigation policies. I had never heard of this before but initially would have thought it was a good idea. It is a widely known belief that many people in America sue as a means to get money from others when they are the one at fault. I thought to police the funds that could be received would lessen the dishonest people suing individuals or companies.


The Tort reform gained attention from voters from a well-crafted Public Relations Campaign. The lobbyists for this reform hired a public relations firm and asked them to give the reform a positive image to appeal to everyday individuals. The firm created billboards, commercials with tearful workers losing their jobs and long standing companies closing due to being sued for frivolous reasons. This campaign tugged at every day citizen’s heartstrings and made people think the United States needed to have a way to limit the amount of money people could receive from lawsuits.


The film then uses various examples of lawsuits in which people did not receive as much as money they deserved because of the Tort Reform. I am going to share the lawsuit that really got my attention. In 1993, Lisa Gourley was pregnant with twins, Colin and Connor.  Lisa’s doctor mistakenly believed Lisa had two placentas when she only had one placenta. Lisa should have been treated as a high-risk pregnancy. Three days before her due date, noticing a decrease in the movement of the babies.  Lisa expressed concern to her doctor, who dismissed her apprehension and neglected to do any testing or refer her to a specialist. Two days later, still very concerned, Lisa called the doctor’s office. When she arrived there in the afternoon, another doctor in the office ordered an ultrasound, finding the babies in severe distress and needing immediate delivery.  However, a breakdown in communication among the doctors delayed the emergency C-section for almost two hours.  Collin, one of the twins was born with severe cerebral palsy and cognitive delays while the other twin, Connor was born completely healthy. When the family was told that it would take 6 million dollars to care for Colin throughout his life they knew they had to sue their doctor for malpractice to be able to provide for their son. They ended up winning the lawsuit and being awarded 5.6 million dollars. However, their home state of Nebraska had adopted the Tort Reform. This put a cap on how much the family could receive which left them with just 1.25 million dollars, which after court costs and lawyer fees left them with little to use on Colin.


While this reform has maintained an effective public relations campaign I believe that it is not ethical. People shouldn’t be made to believe that every individual suing people or companies is doing so for dishonest reasons. While this bill may deter some people, it is also cheating people that actually need and deserve money from damages and making companies less liable for their mistakes.


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