July 1, 2011

An attorney from Ashland has made a documentary about the civil justice system that is reaping rave reviews — in some circles. For plaintiffs in personal injury cases, the film is a gift: It shows the truth behind some alarming, scare-tactic headlines. In particular, the film, “Hot Coffee,” clarifies the details of the notorious McDonald’s case brought by a woman who was severely burned by spilled coffee.

When the jury’s verdict first came down, the case went viral before there was such a thing, as one columnist put it. The award of $2.86 million in damages was characterized as the “litigation lotto,” the liability jackpot, a symbol of outrageous abuse of the court system, a paean to an individual’s greed for something that was her own darned fault.

It was a rare if not impossible occasion for someone to find an unbiased, truthful account of the case in the media.

The truth of the matter comes out in the film. The woman was not driving with the hot coffee between her knees. She wasn’t “just” scalded. The car was stopped, her grandson was driving, and she steadied the cup of coffee by placing it between her knees and holding it with one hand while trying to remove the lid with the other.

The coffee, kept at 180 degrees, spilled. Liquids degrees are considered a serious burn hazard at 140 degrees.

She landed in the hospital, in critical condition for eight days. She had suffered third-degree burns on her thighs and genitals. Treatment included painful skin grafts. And the medical bills ran to tens of thousands of dollars.

She didn’t go straight to court.

We’ll finish this up in our next post.

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



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