Hot Coffee

Hot Coffee

Directed by: Susan Saladof
89 minutes

New England Premiere

Do you know about the woman who sued McDonald’s for millions of dollars because she spilled hot coffee in her lap?

Most likely, you answered “Yes”—but you almost certainly do not know the full story.

Despite the fact that the case was satirized in seemingly every possible venue—from late-show monologues to a song by “Weird Al” Yankovic, to a memorable episode of Seinfeld—the vast majority of people who have heard of the case would be hard pressed to describe accurately the events that led to Stella Liebeck being burnt by hot coffee. It takes this film no more than a couple of minutes to show that the circumstances and extent of Liebeck’s injuries were neither frivolous nor humorous. But while Liebeck certainly deserves better than to be the punch line of hundreds of jokes, director Susan Saladoff has bigger fish to fry in HOT COFFEE.

The fact that Liebeck’s story was repeated extensively, but not accurately, was neither an accident nor happenstance, but part of a widespread, well-funded public-relations campaign. The purpose of that campaign was to turn public opinion against the civil justice system and those who seek compensation through those courts. HOT COFFEE counters decades of vague and misleading rhetoric about “tort reform” with the clear exposition of several real cases. What emerges is a powerful argument that the opportunity for citizens to seek redress in civil court is not some kind of dangerous trend, but—on the contrary—a fundamental right, the exercise of which helps to preserve everyone’s freedom.

—Kyle Parrish