Langdon & Emison sponsored a screening of the documentary film Hot Coffee today at Stanford Law School in Palo Alto, California. The screening of the movie dedicated to the subject of tort reform was followed by a Q&A session with the director of the movie, Susan Saladoff, by Skype.
Stanford Law professor Nora Freeman Engstrom, renowned in the area of tort law, served as moderator for the program. The screening and Q&A with the director was staged in partnership with the Stanford Law School American Constitution Society chapter.
The award-winning “Hot Coffee” documentary examines the mechanisms by which corporations seek to deny consumers access to the courtroom and perpetuate inequities within the civil justice system. The film opens by reconstructing the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee case in which a woman who suffered extensive third-degree burns after spilling a cup of coffee into her lap was awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages. The case then became a rallying point for inserting caps on damages in civil lawsuits imposed by government.
The firm has sponsored screenings of this film also at the University of Missouri – Columbia and the Kentucky Association for Justice 2012 annual convention, and has upcoming events at SMU in Dallas and others.
Through a series of interviews featuring the jurors who had ruled in favor of the plaintiff along with her physician, attorney, and family members, the film dispels a number of popular misconceptions surrounding the case. For instance, contrary to general assumption, the plaintiff had requested compensation only to finance medical expenses, and McDonald’s had previously faced and ignored over 700 complaints about burns from hot drinks.
The documentary highlights the well-organized “tort reform” PR campaign launched in the wake of the “hot coffee” case by corporate interests with political clout. The campaign succeeded both in limiting the amount plaintiffs could receive in damages and electing conservative pro-business judges to state courts. The movie also illustrates the extent to which corporate contributions can influence judicial campaigns, citing the election of former Mississippi state justice Oliver Diaz as a recent example.
To produce and direct this work, Saladoff spent twenty-five years practicing law in the civil justice system, representing injured victims of individual and corporate negligence. She stopped practicing law in 2009 to make the documentary, which was her first feature-length film.
Saladoff began her career as a public interest lawyer with the law firm of Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, now known as Public Justice, an organization that, for the last 25 years, has been at the forefront of keeping America’s courthouse doors open to all. Susan was recognized by her peers as an Oregon Super Lawyer for five consecutive years from 2006 to 2010. She is a graduate of Cornell University and George Washington University Law School, and has frequently lectured at the state and national levels on the importance of the civil justice system.