By now‚ everyone has heard of the famous McDonald’s Coffee Case in which Stella Leibeck‚ an elderly woman from Albuquerque‚ spilled hot coffee from the drive through of her local McDonald’s restaurant on her lap and then sued “because the coffee was hot” and won millions of dollars after a civil trial.
The McDonald’s Coffee Case has been mocked innumerable times by everyone from Seinfeld to Letterman and has spawned the “Stella Awards” for examples of outrageous lawsuits and runaway juries and verdicts.
However‚ now a new documentary‚ Hot Coffee–The Movie‚ looks at the true story behind this famous verdict and exposes many of the false beliefs held by the public. These include the belief that Stella won millions (she didn’t‚ the ultimate verdict was reduced to less than a half million dollars)‚ that there was nothing unusual about the temperature of the coffee (in fact‚ the coffee was so hot that it was hotter than industry standard)‚ and that the jury verdict was unreasonable and not based upon the evidence (the jury actually carefully examined the evidence and awarded punitive damages based upon McDonald’s profit from selling coffee).
The movie pays close attention to the role the McDonald’s Coffee Case has played in the tort reform movement and how tort reformers and insurance companies have exploited the verdict for their own selfish gains and to limit injured people’s access to the civil justice system. Another side effect has been that the verdict helps insurance companies paint injured people seeking civil justice as greedy and out to win the “lottery”. Watch the trailer below: