Hot Coffee [Import]
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Powerful, eye-opening documentary exposes how corporations spent millions on a propaganda campaign to distort Americans' views of lawsuits, forever changing the civil justice system. Hot Coffee tears apart the conventional wisdom about "frivolous" lawsuits and shows how access to the courts is blocked by corruption, greed and the unyielding power of special interest. 89 minutes.
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This is a documentary about tort reform. You see, a "tort" is a "harm" or a "damage". If you are like nearly 100% of America, you'll be asking what that is. I will tell you without spoiling the documentary--you WILL want to see this for yourself. Presenting itself in a tightly organized, well developed set of four "exhibits", HOT COFFEE begins with a case I will describe herein--the others I will leave for the viewer to watch and learn. The "exhibits" consist of:
I. Public Relations Campaign
II. Caps On Damages
III. Judicial Elections
IV. Mandatory Arbitration
In "Exhibit I" we learn about the true story of the lady from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who burned herself with McDonald's coffee. Stella Liebeck was along for a drive with her nephew (she was a passenger and no, it was not her grandson as is stated by dum-dums all over America), and they stopped at McDonald's. Stella ordered coffee which was demonically hot (and a jury found there is no excuse for this, period). When she spilled it on her lap she suffered life-threatening 3rd degree burns. This was not helped by her age and the resulting thinness of her skin, especially in the areas the coffee spilled. She had no way of getting to the spilled coffee in time and certainly no relief in sight.
McDonalds was total in its lack of common sense providing SAFE cups and lids. Stella endured a lengthy stay in hospital, where she required surgery, skin grafts and therapy. It was a miracle she survived at all, according to physicians. Thinking McDonald's should pay for her $10,000 hospital treatment, she and family approached McD's. They got the raspberry, so they sued. Stella was awarded over $2 million, but she was left with a damages award of less than $200,000. She settled with McDonald's out of court for an undisclosed amount. The campaign against her "frivolous" lawsuit (a/k/a "junk" lawsuit) shocked all who knew about her sufferings.
Yet the "tort reformists", those who want us to be harmed and never have any apparatus of accountability to help us, well they jumped all over this case as the example of the epoch. Not knowing the horrors of the injuries suffered by this elderly lady, and not caring, the monsters that wield power began the campaign to take away our right to have our day in court. That, under any and all circumstances, is un-Constitutional.
This documentary will teach you all that and then tell you about the Chamber of Commerce. The COC is a private organization of high-octane superpower corporations, and one of the many things they do is rig judicial campaigns any way they can so the judges on the state supreme courts will rule in their favor when tort cases arise. (This, then, is the heart of what it means to say "tort reform".)
You will learn in this film that this is not the worst of it. Along with legislation state-by-state capping the damages a jury can award, the C.O.C. also succeeded in another devious device: mandatory arbitration. The mandatory binding arbitration clause in any contract says you (the contractee) cannot sue the contractor. Instead, you only get mandatory arbitration by an arbitration company, chosen by your contractor, and this is a secret, final-word hearing that will not be in your favor.
In other words, these companies rob you of even a chance of your "day in court" should that day ever arise. Mandatory arbitration plus caps on damages in tort cases fly in the face of all basic rights, as this film clearly explains. Often, when you purchase utilities or insurance, you may subsequently get a supplemental flyer--the type no one in their right mind ever reads--and the mandatory arbitration clause is included in there.
The remaining sections show us only a few exemplary cases: in the instance of caps on damages, in which a jury can award whatever they want (because you won't get that anyway), we learn of a family that can never fully meet the needs of their brain-damaged son. Why? Their damages award was automatically capped. The jury, as usual, didn't know that fact. "Caps relieve the wrongdoer," says one attorney.
In the case of rigged judicial elections, Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz, an anti-tort reform justice, was hounded and crucified over and over during his bid for re-election. He was hounded right out of the election, but as I recall he lost big time anyway, and there was suspicion about the entire thing. The powers wanted a pro-tort reform justice.
In the case of mandatory arbitration, we learn about a young lady who worked for Halliburton and went to Iraq. What happened to her there, and how she was denied justice for over four years, all because of the sneaky arbitration clause in her employment contract, will make your skin crawl. Sadly, I have learned from some very obnoxious commenters under my review that this young lady is a fraud, but that does not change the subject of mandatory arbitration at its worst. What I see is a rightie-versus-leftie type of battle over this documentary film, and I had no idea justice itself was such a political hot potato.
GET THIS. Learn from it and do not forget the lessons you will learn. Because the only way to fix all this is to first undo the ignorance that reigns in this country. We must learn about these matters. Very likely, you have at least a dozen contracts with mandatory arbitration clauses in them, such as your phone account, credit cards, insurances. You have the right to sue someone who has harmed you. You have the right to your court time. You have the right "to get what you bargained for." As one attorney says, "When you win a case, you win it ... not only for yourself ... but also for [all] other people."
Stella Liebeck, the woman who nearly died from that McDonald's hot coffee, passed away at the age of 91 in 2004. There is still talk about her case, talk laced with disgust. So I make this review dedicated to her memory.
Here is the detailed unveiling of corporate multi-million-dollar propaganda campaigns,
intentionally ment to confuse and brainwash Americans.
Photo's are shown here of the deep burns Stella Liebeck suffered in the McDonald's hot coffee incident.
She was 79 at the time, she required numerous skin graphs and nearly died.
But the industry twisted the case to make it the poster child for frivolous lawsuits.
Meanwhile McDonald's kept a low profile on the fact that they previously had,
between January 1983 to March 1992, over 700 burn cases.
Corporations have armed themselves with these tactics,
plus powerful unrelenting lobbing, and friends in high places.
They have extensively campaigned to affect jury's and senator's to set cap's on damage awards.
And in addition they have among other things,
actually managed to change a CRUCIAL part of our 200 year old constitution of the United States.
Thus they unbound themselves from prior limits,
and now can give unlimited donations to the politician's who will support their issues.
In other words, they control the add campaigns which ultimately sway which politicians American's vote for.
Opening this floodgate means corporations literally hold the future of most American's in their hands.
This documentary is a stunning and reveiling well segmented account of the battle over Tort reform,
and what IS happening to America.
Reveiled here are many devices and methods that are used.
Documented footage shows that the whole point of the Tort reform is to keep the public from accessing the courts.
All public, no matter if frivolous or honest.
Camera's follow individuals as they try to access the courts for restitution for the wrongs done to them.
That's when they find out the true meaning of Tort "reform" and what's happened to their rights.
U.S. maps are high-lighted to show which states have which caps on damages, there can be three kinds:
Each category is explained.
Another way to block a person's right to sue,
is when you agree whether you know it or not to 'arritration'.
This common tactic is exposed and explained.
Information is given about the immensely large,
extremly powerful and very corrupt U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
This is not a government agency, it's an enormous mass of corporations.
They are exposed for who they are, how they sway elections, and what their intent is.
This is likely the most accurate, deeply informative documentary you'll ever have an opportunity to own.
Every household should watch this documentary, and understand it's impact.
Section One is the infamous Hot Coffee case. Branded a frivolous lawsuit (although I no longer think so), this jury decision for the plaintive caused a national media firestorm. The idea of the case, not the facts, were publicized as a platform for tort reform (procedural limits on the ability to file claims).
Section Two addresses another aspect of tort reform--the capping on damages that may be awarded by juries. The example in this instance revolves around a Nebraska family who have suffered at the hands of blatant medical error. The couple was awarded a six million dollar judgement to cover a lifetime of care for a son who experienced brain damage and severe physical trauma and will, essentially, never grow-up mentally. Their state has a cap on damages and automatically reduced the judgement significantly.
Section Three documents the persecution of Mississippi justice Oliver Diaz. In a dramatic fashion, Diaz's seat was challenged by candidates with funding by big business who were strong on tort reform and corporate interests. In a harrowing turn of events, Diaz was implicated in numerous nefarious illegalities and fought for his life and freedom--not just a judgeship.
Section Four deals with the infamous Halliburton case where a young women alleged that the company put her in harm's way which led to a brutal physical assault. As the company had a mandatory arbitration clause in their employment contract, the alleged victim was subject to in-house investigation where, of course, Halliburton was always in control. The film showcases her fight to have the details of her case heard by a real court system.
I have tried not to be overtly political in any of this review. And whether or not you accept all of Saladoff's propositions at face value, there is certainly plenty to think about here. It is an amazingly effective and affecting documentary. I had a visceral and emotional response to this film--it made me upset, confused, disappointed, and angry. I talked about it for days afterwards and recommended it to many people. In my mind, this important film is one of the year's most provocative documentaries. KGHarris, 8/11.