Sunday, March 11, 2012

Hot Coffee, HBO Documentary, dir. Susan Saladoff (2011)

     This outstanding documentary begins with 79-year-old Stella Leibeck, whose story you think you know, or at least I did, based on the massive media campaign used to generate "tort reform" against "frivolous lawsuits." What really happened to her, chronicled here in spare and respectful detail, is that she sustained severe burns from coffee that was as hot as water from a car radiator. And before her, 700 people had been badly burned, according to McDonald's own records. Leibeck, who had been active and working until the accident, never regained her health. She sued only to recover her medical expenses, first assuming that McDonald's would quickly reimburse her once they learned of their mistake. She was wrong on both counts: McDonald's offered a tiny sum compared to the bills for hospitalization and skin grafts. Yes, skin grafts. And this was no mistake; employees were following routine temperature procedure.

     The film exposes the invisible hand of business interests in changing our laws and stacking our courts to protect corporations, enlisting our help with rhetorical trickery. This film is essential viewing for all Americans. No wonder it's won a boatload of awards. Props to Netflix for carrying it.

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