“Hot Coffee” Brews Heated Discussion

June 25, 2011

The long-awaited documentary about coffee burn litigation will be shown Monday night on HBO. Check local times and listings. Watch it and then share your opinion. Just what is a frivolous lawsuit? Do we need reforms to rein in the number of litigations? Are Americans too lawsuit happy? “Hot Coffee” features several legal battles fought to attain justice for those who’ve suffered wrongs. Its name comes from the infamous 1992 McDonald’s case in which the fast-food icon served coffee so hot a woman was severely burned after spilling it. The coffee was said to be 180-185 degree F – the reports of the temperature differ – hotter than what most restaurants are now serving. The plaintiff put the cup between her legs and tried to take off the lid so as to add cream and sugar, but she spilled the contents all over her legs, causing horrendous burns which are shown in the film. She didn’t want to sue McDonalds, but only asked for help paying her medical bills. She had a weak case, as the excuse her lawyer used for the spill was the lack of a coffee holder in the car. Clearly, this was not McDonald’s fault! They refused to pay but it was the arrogance with which they treated the plaintiff that led to the lawsuit. Most of us can probably relate to this kind of arrogance on the part of big business. The case was finally solved, awarding the plaintiff $2.9 million. This was considered an exorbitant settlement, and thus the reason for the film. The producer is herself a litigation attorney who doesn’t hide the fact that she believes people should maintain the freedoms to sue anyone with whom there is a grievance. She is dead set against the movement for tort reform, which would put limits and controls over such litigations. Done right, this film could have brought out both sides of the tort litigation issue: personal responsibility vs the negligence of the defendant, and the issue of fair monetary settlement. There is the issue of the lawyer’s role and how much money they stand to win if victorious, also often excessive. Then there’s the question of how do we put a price on suffering? “Hot Coffee” hasn’t been screened publically and already there is controversy among the reviewers about the issues. Glenn Garvin was one of the reviewers who found the movie less than balanced. Some agree and some don’t. Part of the problem or blame is put on the producer because her obvious pro-litigation position is NOT given a fair rebuttal. Watch Monday night. For a previous article on ROASTe on this subject, go to http://www.roaste.com/CafeRoaste/News/2011/01/13/It-Started-Cup-Coffee-5160 . If you want to guard against the potential burns from coffee served you that is too hot, consider an investment in coffee joullies (to become available soon). http://www.roaste.com/product/roaste/Coffee-Joulies



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