A plaintiff-lawyer-turned-moviemaker has produced a film about the infamous lawsuit Stella Liebeck filed against McDonald’s nearly 20 years ago, and she definitely won’t be asking McDonald’s to be a sponsor if the movie ever hits theaters. It’s been screened at the Sundance Film Festival, but it’s unclear if the movie will ever make it to screens anywhere else. That would be a good thing.
I am reluctant to give “Hot Coffee” any free publicity, but I also feel a responsibility to provide information and insight that can shed light on the real objective of those involved in producing this movie.
Liebeck, you might recall, was the Arizona woman who spilled hot coffee on herself in her nephew’s car after purchasing it at a McDonald’s drive through window. She never alleged that McDonald’s negligently spilled the coffee on her or even that McDonald’s neglected to put the cap on the cup properly. She did admit that she spilled the coffee on herself.
My point is, without rehashing the entire lawsuit and all of the inconvenient truths that personal injury lawyers usually fail to mention, that Liebeck was attempting to hold McDonald’s liable for her own actions despite the obvious risks involved. Most of us across America have always viewed this as an issue of personal responsibility. The maker of this film, however, wants to use the lawsuit as a way to rally Americans to support the political agenda of personal injury trial lawyers.
Visitors to the movie’s website are urged not only to watch the movie, but to “Take Action.” Specifically, the website suggests that Americans should “Oppose your state’s laws on caps on damages,” and… “Read your contracts and tell Congress to support legislation to limit the use of mandatory arbitration.”
Hmmm. That sounds a lot like the spiel I hear when I debate contingency fee personal injury lawyers on the radio.
The website also offers a list of resources including the usual suspects like Public Citizen and other groups commonly associated with the lawsuit-loving plaintiffs’ bar. It even offers a link to a book the plaintiffs’ bar likes to promote.
It’s obvious to me that the producers of this movie have one goal: to convince Americans that the personal injury lawyers who have made America the most lawsuit-happy nation on earth are really the “good guys,” and that America needs even more lawsuits like the one filed by Liebeck. That notion leaves a worse taste in my mouth than a bad cup of coffee.
Last year on this blog, I noted that Starbucks had been sued in a similar case, and I provided a link to a website containing attorney Ted Frank’s excellent explanation of why Liebeck’s lawsuit was, in fact, ludicrous. To see that post and the link to Frank’s comments, click here.
You can also find an illuminating review of this movie as well as insightful information about the moviemaker’s lawsuit-promoting background here.
At the end of the day, two questions remain: Have major restaurant chains stopped serving coffee at the temperature that McDonald’s served its coffee when it was sued by Liebeck? And, is American better off because of Stella Liebeck’s lawsuit? The answer to both of those questions is “No!”