Many people recall the infamous 1994 episode in which an elderly woman named Stella Liebeck spilled a cup of scalding hot McDonald's coffee in her lap, resulting in major burns and a lawsuit against the restaurant chain that earned her nearly $2.6 million in damages (many fewer remember that the amount was very substantially reduced in a subsequent judgment).
Filmmaker Susan Saladoff obviously remembers--the incident provided the title for and is featured prominently in Hot Coffee, her documentary about the nature of civil suits. But Saladoff, who is herself a lawyer, has an unexpected take on the matter. The Liebeck case, the film suggests, was, in fact, a public relations coup for McDonald's, who helped turn it into Exhibit A in the campaign to limit so-called "frivolous" lawsuits, also known as "tort reform." This is an eye-opening look at corporate America.
Milford Library, 57 New Haven Ave., will be showing the film on January 18 at 7pm.
Following the film, Eric P. Smith will be leading a discussion about it. Smith is a trial lawyer from Faxon Law Group, and he will discuss the real reasons for awarding high judgments, and why major companies want to limit them. As a partner of Faxon Law Group, and having litigated civil cases for more than 20 years, Smith has tried dozens of complex cases involving medical and professional malpractice, wrongful death, personal injury, birth trauma and aviation. He earned his J.D. from Quinnipiac University School of Law and was a partner at a well-known New Haven litigation firm before joining Faxon Law Group in early 2009.