Sundance Watch List: HOT COFFEE

You know the famous court case in which a woman won $2.7 million (later reduced) after she spilled a cup of burning-hot McDonald’s coffee in her lap? Yeah, I’ve joked about it, too. But lawyer-turned-filmmaker Susan Saladoff has made a movie to help us understand that by ridiculing this case, we’re playing right into the hands of McDonald’s and other corporations, which have spent millions of dollars to manipulate public opinion and turn the hot-coffee case into an emblem of frivolous lawsuits — and have used it to promote tort reform that makes it far more difficult for ordinary American citizens seek justice in court. (I know, hot-coffee-joke buzz kill.)

Saladoff’s HOT COFFEE will screen at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Documentary Competition. Here’s Saladoff, speaking to indiWIRE about why she made the film:

I represented injured people in the civil courts as a trial lawyer for many years. I wanted to help people who were wrongly harmed by no fault of their own. For most of those years, it was difficult to find an unbiased jury. Many believed that there were too many frivolous lawsuits and that injured people were trying to cash in on so-called “jackpot justice.” What most people used as the basis for their beliefs was the case of a woman who spilled coffee on her lap, sued McDonald’s, and got a big verdict. The McDonald’s coffee case is the most famous case in the world, and yet almost everyone has it wrong. Why is that, and who has profited from that belief system? I made “Hot Coffee” to try to open people’s minds about the importance of our legal system, which is a fundamental right that we have. The movie not only challenges people’s long held beliefs about the McDonald’s coffee case, but also how people are giving up their Constitutional rights every day without even knowing it.

Be sure to satisfy all your festival needs with the latest buzz, top stories, and celebrity interviews from Sundance Channel’s coverage of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.