Hot Coffee - The Film That Should Be Required Viewing for Every American

Have you heard of the McDonald’s coffee case?  It is an infamous case that has been used repeatedly as an example of a “frivolous lawsuit,” but is that a truthful assessment of the facts? What really happened to Stella Liebeck, the woman who spilled hot coffee on herself and sued McDonald's? There is a stigma around personal injury lawsuits and this eye-opening documentary crumples up that stigma and throws it in the trash.

Film Synopsis:

Is Justice Being Served?
Seinfeld mocked it. Letterman ranked it in his top ten list. And more than fifteen years later, its infamy continues. Everyone knows the McDonald’s coffee case. It has been routinely cited as an example of how citizens have taken advantage of America’s legal system, but is that a fair rendition of the facts? Hot Coffee reveals what really happened to Stella Liebeck, the Albuquerque woman who spilled coffee on herself and sued McDonald’s, while exploring how and why the case garnered so much media attention, who funded the effort and to what end. After seeing this film, you will decide who really profited from spilling hot coffee.


Movie Reviews:

“Eye-opening indictment of the way big business spins the media.” —Variety

“Stunning debut … Sends audiences out of the theater thinking in a brand new way.” —Washington Post

“Entertaining, informative … vividly illuminating.” —Hollywood Reporter

This documentary is FREE if you have an Amazon Prime membership or available for rent at this link!


Our post on Facebook last about this film last Friday created a lot of buzz in the comment section. We want to thank everyone who particpated in this important discussion. We noticed that the people who had seen the film or read about the McDonald’s Coffee Case posted feedback about how learning the facts of the case changed their opinion on the outcome of the case. Once seeing the horrific third-degree burns Ms. Liebeck endured, many said they no longer viewed this case as a “frivolous lawsuit.”
We also saw a few comments with misinformation about the case that we’d love to address:
-A few people said that coffee is always hot and therefore, she should not have sued because she was burned by a beverage known to be hot. We all know coffee is intended to be hot, but the coffee spilled on Stella Liebeck was between 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit where the boing point of most liquids is 212 degrees Fahrenheit. The industry standard for the temperature of coffee served in most states is significantly lower and would not have caused the third degree burns Ms. Liebeck.
-Other people commented that $2.9 million is a lot to award to a plaintiff in a case like this. The $2.9 million verdict was comprised of two types of damages. Compensatory damages in the amount of $200,000 were awarded to Ms. Liebeck for her bodily injury, pain & suffering, medical bills, embarrassment, and inconvenience. This amount was reduced to $160,000 because the jury found Ms. Liebeck was 20% at fault for her damages. $2.7 million was awarded for punitive damages which are designed to punish the wrongdoer, not to reward the victim. The punitive damages were actually lowered from $2.7 million to $480,000 by the judge who stated that McDonald’s conduct was “reckless, callous and willful”. Ms. Liebeck actually settled with McDonald's for a lower undisclosed amount with the promise that the standard coffee temperature for McDonald’s would be lowered.
-So how would this case be different if it was heard in Virginia? First, Virginia has a cap of $350,000.00 on the amount of money that can be awarded in punitive damages. These damages can also only be awarded if compensatory are awarded as well. Also, under New Mexico law, the negligence of the parties involved is assessed a percentage and if the Plaintiff is found at fault, his or her total verdict would be lowered by the percentage assigned to him or her. This is called comparative negligence. Hence, Ms. Liebeck’s compensatory damages were lowered by 20% because she was found 20% at fault. Virginia, however, is one of the only 4 states in the country which has what is called contributory negligence. This means that if a plaintiff contributes to the cause of his or her damages, no matter how slight, he or she is not entitled to recover anything. Therefore, in Virginia, Ms. Liebeck would have received nothing for these horrific injuries.



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