July 1, 2011

In our last post, we were talking about a documentary made by an Oregon attorney. The film is about the civil justice system and Americans’ perceptions of, in particular, personal injury claims. One of those claims is the notorious McDonald’s coffee case.

After suffering third-degree burns from spilled coffee, the plaintiff’s medical bills started to pile up. She asked McDonald’s to help pay those bills, suggesting $20,000 would be fair. The company countered with an offer of $800.

At trial, the jury didn’t lay the blame entirely at McDonald’s feet. They found that the plaintiff was 20 percent responsible. And, as is often the case, the judge reduced the $2.86 million award to $640,000 after the trial. The parties settled for an undisclosed amount that was, in fact, lower than the judge’s award.

In the documentary, the director asks people on the street about the case. They offer up various versions of the accident and the award, all incorrect. When they see the pictures of the victim’s burns, they are shocked. Those images change their minds.

There are other stories in “Hot Coffee,” and the Ashland-based director is not shy about making her opinions clear. The civil justice system, she believes, is under attack from the very people and companies that the system is meant to hold accountable.

What struck us about the McDonald’s story, though, was the reaction of those Average Joes and Janes when they saw the pictures. In a recent interview, the director said that, when she was in private practice, she had started to film the day-to-day lives of her clients. If the jury and the judge — and the defendant — could see how her client’s life had been changed, she said, they would feel the true impact of the defendant’s actions.

“Hot Coffee” helps the message resonate beyond the courtroom.

Sources:KOINLocal6.com, “Oregon-based attorney and “Hot Coffee” director details journey of making film,” Kyle Mallory, 07/12/2011


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